Lack of minimum standards of education in Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy streams will lead to half-baked doctors and prescribing a National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to courses in these streams cannot be faulted, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta upheld the validity of the notifications issued by the Central Council of Indian Medicine, which had mandated minimum qualifying marks in NEET for admission to an undergraduate course in Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha streams and postgraduate courses in Ayurveda.
Facts of case
The notifications were issued in December 2018 after the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy instructed all the state governments, Union territories, and universities to admit students in AYUSH undergraduate courses for the academic year 2018-2019 only on the basis of merit list of the NEET. Similar notifications introducing the AYUSH Post Graduate Entrance Test for admissions to Post Graduate courses (MD-Ayurveda) were also issued.The notifications were challenged by AYUSH colleges before the Punjab & Haryana high court which dismissed the same in December 2019. The decision of the High Court was challenged before the Supreme Court where it was contended that the Regulations of 2018 are ulta vires the Indian Medicine Central Council Act of 1970 and that the introduction of NEET goes beyond the scope of the regulation making authority of the Central Council under Section 36 of this Act. The Students and the Institutes had also contended that the 2018 Regulations are not in conformity with “purposes of the Act” under Section 36 (1) of the Act. The Centre, as opposed to this, had argued that the 2018 Regulations were “perfectly valid” and were made in a valid exercise of the power conferred on the Central Council under Section 36 of the Act. The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homoeopathy (for short, ‘AYUSH’), instructed all the State Governments, Union Territories and the Universities concerned to admit students in AYUSH Under Graduate courses for the academic year 2018-2019 only on the basis of merit list of the NEET, conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in accordance with the existing rules and reservation policies of the concerned State Governments. A minimum qualifying mark for eligibility to admissions in the Under Graduate courses was prescribed at 50th percentile. The minimum marks for the Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes and Other Backward Classes was prescribed at 40th percentile.
The Indian Medicine Central Council (Minimum Standards of Educationin Indian Medicine) Regulations, 1986 were amended by the 2018 Regulations. Regulation 2 (d) of the 2018 Regulations provides that there shall be a uniform entrance examination for all medical institutions, namely the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to under-graduate courses in each academic year and that the NEET examination shall be conducted by an authority designated by the Central Government.The minimum eligibility mark for admission to Under Graduate courses has been prescribed at 50th percentile for General category candidates and 40th percentile for Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes and Other Backward Class candidates. The Indian Medicine Central Council (Post Graduate Ayurvedic Education) Amendment Regulations, 2018 were issued making amendments to the Indian Medicine Central Council (Post Graduate Ayurvedic Education) Regulations, 2016. An all India entrance examination (AIA-PGET), on the lines of the examination prescribed for the Under Graduate courses, was introduced by the said regulations for Post Graduate courses. There are other SLPs filed by the students seeking admission to Under Graduate courses (BAMS, BUMS and BHMS) for the academic year 2019-2020. Admission were granted to students in the Institutions on the basis of theinterim orders of the High Court without insisting on the eligibility criterion fixed by the 2018 Regulations i.e. securing minimum marks in NEET. The Central Council has also filed some SLPs, aggrieved by the interim orders passed by the High Courts permitting admission of students without insisting on the NEET eligibility in Under Graduate as well as Post Graduate courses. As stated above, the point that arises for our consideration is whether the students seeking admissions to Under Graduate courses (BAMS, BUMS, BSMS and BHMS) and Post Graduate courses can be denied admission on the ground that they did not take the NEET or that they did not get the minimum percentile prescribed by the 2018 Regulations.
In the High Court, it was contended on behalf of the Institutions which filed the Writ Petitions that the 2018 Regulations are ultra vires the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970 (hereinafter referred to as, ‘the Act’). It was argued that introduction of an all India examination in the form of NEET is beyond the regulation making authority of the Central Council under Section 36 of the Act. Reliance was placed by the Writ Petitioners on the fact that the NEET examination was introduced for the MBBS and BDS courses only after amending the provisions of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and Dentists Act, 1948 respectively. Reference was made to the amendments carried out to Section 10 and Section 33 of the Act and introduction of Section 10-A in both the aforementioned Acts. It was contended that without conducting a similar exercise of amending the provisions of the Act empowering the Central Council to make regulations governing entrance examinations, the Central Council hastily made the 2018 Regulations.
It was contended on behalf of the Institutions and the students that the 2018 Regulations are ultra vires the Act. No power is conferred on the Central Council to make Regulations for introduction of an all India entrance examination under Section 36 of the Act. The High Court held that the students cannot claim any equity because the interim orders on the basis of which admissions were given to the students stipulated that their admissions would be subject to the final result of the Writ Petitions. It was contended on behalf of the Institutions and the students that the 2018 Regulations are ultra vires the Act. No power is conferred on the Central Council to make Regulations for introduction of an all India entrance examination under Section 36 of the Act. The further submission of the students and the Institutions was that NEET is not structured for Ayurvedic courses as the syllabi for AYUSH courses is completely different from syllabi for MBBS or BDS courses.
……………..J. [L. NAGESWARA RAO]
……………………….J. [DEEPAK GUPTA]
New Delhi, February 20, 2020
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje