States, and not MCI, have power to make reservation for in-service candidates in Post Graduate Medical Course; Constitution bench holds

Supreme Court: The 5-judge Constitution bench of Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has held that the Medical Council of India has no power to make any reservation for in-service candidates in Post Graduate Medical Course in States and that only States are allowed to grant the benefit of reservation of seats to in-service doctors in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) postgraduate degree courses.

Holding that States have the legislative competence and/or authority to provide for a separate source of entry for in-service candidates seeking admission to postgraduate degree/diploma courses, in exercise of powers under Entry 25, List III, the bench observed that

“…policy must provide that subsequent to obtaining the postgraduate degree by the concerned in-service doctors obtaining entry  in degree courses through such separate channel serve the State in the rural, tribal and hilly areas at least for five years after obtaining the degree/diploma and for that they will execute bonds for  such  sum the   respective  States  may   consider   fit  and  proper”

The Court, however, specifically   observed   and   clarified   that the present decision shall operate prospectively, and any admissions given earlier taking a contrary view shall not be affected by this judgment.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 242-PAGES LONG VERDICT

On the scope of “coordination and determination of standards” under Entry 66 List I

Entry 66 List I is a specific entry having a very limited scope and only deals with “coordination and determination of standards” in higher education. The term “coordination and determination of standards” means   laying   down   the   said standards and therefore when it comes to prescribe the standards for such institutions of higher learning, exclusive domain is given to the Union.  Further, it would not include conducting of examination etc. and admission of students to such institutions or prescribing the fee in these institutions of higher education, etc.

“Thus, in exercise of powers under Entry 66 List I, the Union cannot provide for anything with respect to reservation/percentage of reservation and/or even mode of admission within the State quota, which powers are conferred upon the States under Entry 25 of List III.”

On the scope of MCI’s power to frame regulations with respect to reservation

The Medical  Council   of   India which  has  been constituted   under   the   provisions   of   the   Indian Medical   Council   Act,   1956   is   the   creature   of   the statute  in  exercise  of  powers  under  Entry  66 List  I and   has   no   power   to   make   any   provision   for reservation,   more   particularly,   for   in-service  candidates  by   the   concerned  States,   in   exercise  of powers under Entry 25 List III.

Section 33 of the MCI Act does not confer any authority and/or power to the MCI to frame the regulations with respect to reservation in the medical courses, more particularly, to provide for a separate source of entry for in-service   candidates   seeking   admission   to   postgraduate   degree courses, as sought to be contended on behalf of the MCI and counsel opposing for providing for a separate source of entry for in-service candidates.

“… it cannot be said that the Medical Council of India would have any authority or jurisdiction to   frame   any   regulations   with   respect   to   reservation   and/or making special provision like providing for a separate source of entry for in-service candidates seeking admission to postgraduate degree courses.”

On the validity of Regulation 9 of MCI Regulations, 2000

Regulation 9 of MCI Regulations, 2000 does not deal with and/or make provisions for reservation and/or affect the legislative competence and authority of the concerned States to make reservation and/or make special provision like the provision providing for a separate source of entry for in-service candidates seeking admission to postgraduate degree courses and therefore the concerned States to be within their authority and/or legislative competence to provide for a separate source of entry for in-service candidates seeking admission to postgraduate degree courses in exercise of powers under Entry 25 of List III.

“…if   it   is   held   that   Regulation   9,   more particularly, Regulation 9(IV) deals with reservation for   in-service   candidates,   in   that   case,   it   will   be ultra vires of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and   it   will   be   beyond   the   legislative   competence under Entry 66 List I.”

Regulation 9 of MCI Regulations, 2000 to the extent tinkering with reservation provided by the State for in-service candidates is ultra vires on the ground that it is arbitrary, discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

On the need for in-service quota

There is a legitimate and rational basis in providing a separate channel/source of entry for in-service candidates in order to encourage them to offer their services and expertise to the State. There is a sufficient nexus with the larger goal of equalization of educational opportunities and to sufficiently prefer the doctors serving in the various hospitals run and maintained out of public funds, in the absence of which there would be serious dearth of qualified Post-graduate doctors to meet the requirements of the common public.  It is stated that the Government is facing public health crisis. The effective and competent medical treatment is not available in the rural and difficult areas.  In-service doctors who pursue higher studies would naturally serve in rural and difficult areas if such incentive in the form of reservation is provided.

“The action of the State to provide for the in-service quota is in the discharge of its positive constitutional obligations to promote and provide better health care facilities for its citizens by upgrading the qualifications of the existing in-service doctors so that the citizens may get more specialized health care facility. Such action is in discharge of its constitutional obligations as provided in Article 47 of the Constitution of India, which is the corresponding fundamental right of the citizens protected under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

On State’s power to provide in-service Quota

The power of the State under Entry 6, List II of Schedule VII to legislate in the subject matter of public health and hospital is exclusive. When the State provides a separate source of admission for in-service doctors as a distinct class and within the State quota and the object is laudable, the State is within its power to provide such separate source of admission in exercise of the powers under Entry 25 List III, read with Entry 6, List II.  It cannot be said that there is no nexus with the laudable object of meeting the requirement of qualified postgraduate doctors for the public health services, more particularly, in the rural, tribal and difficult areas.  As such, there is no conflict between the power of the Union and the State.

 The occupied field of Union legislation in exercise of power under Entry 66, List I is related to minimum standards of medical education and the State   is   providing the in-service quota without impinging the prescribed minimum standards.

“State is within its power and authority to provide such a preferential treatment to provide a better public health in the rural, tribal and hilly areas.”

[TN Medical Officers Association v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 699, decided on 31.08.2020]

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