Stating that rights of religious or linguistic minorities to administer an institution under Article 30 of the Constitution “are not above the law and other Constitutional provisions”, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to graduate and post-graduate medical and dental courses is “regulatory” in nature and in “national interest” to improve the quality of medical education which, it said, has become a “saleable commodity”.
Disposing a bunch of petitions by the Christian Medical College, Vellore, and others, the bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and M R Shah ordered that NEET will be the only exam for admission to the courses and institutions cannot be allowed to conduct their own separate exams over and above NEET.
“We are of the opinion that rights under Articles 19 (1) (g) and 30 read with Articles 25, 26 and 29 (1) of the Constitution of India do not come in the way of securing transparency and recognition of merits in the matter of admissions. It is open to regulating the course of study, qualifications for ensuring educational standards. It is open to imposing reasonable restrictions in the national and public interest,” the bench said.
Article 19 (1) (g) grants citizens the right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business while Article 30 relates to the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.
“The rights to administer an institution under Article 30 of the Constitution are not above the law and other Constitutional provisions. Reasonable regulatory measures can be provided without violating such rights available under Article 30 of the Constitution to administer an institution,” the bench ruled.
Writing for the bench, Justice Mishra said “the rights under Article 19(1) (g) are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restriction in the interest of the student’s community to promote merit, recognition of excellence, and to curb the malpractices. Uniform Entrance Test qualifies the test of proportionality and is reasonable. The same is intended to check several maladies which crept into medical education, to prevent capitation fee by admitting students which are lower in merit and to prevent exploitation, profiteering and commercialisation of education. The institution has to be a capable vehicle of education”.
“The minority institutions are equally bound to comply with the conditions imposed under the relevant Acts and Regulations to enjoy affiliation and recognition, which apply to all institutions. In case they have to impart education, they are bound to comply with the conditions which are equally applicable to all. The regulations are necessary, and they are not divisive or disintegrative. Such regulatory measures enable institutions to administer them efficiently… The quality of medical education is imperative to subserve the national interest, and merit cannot be compromised. The Government has the right for providing regulatory measures that are in the national interest,” the order stated.
The petitioners had said that unaided minority professional colleges have the fundamental right to choose the method and manner of admitting students, subject to satisfaction of the triple test of a fair, transparent, and non-exploitative process, and that NEET could not be the only parameter to determine the merit of a student.
They claimed that change in the admission procedure of students would result in a sharp decline in the current standards of excellence maintained at the institutions and that this would not be in public interest.
Declining permission to conduct other exams, the bench said “the system is not yet out of clutches of unscrupulous devices and dubious means are adopted to defeat merit. The interest of education would further suffer and very purpose of centralised examination would be defeated”.
“Building the nation is the main aspect of education, which could not be ignored and overlooked. They have to cater to national interest first, then their interest, more so, when such conditions can be prescribed for recognition, particularly in the matter of professional education,” the bench said.
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