Supreme Court: The Division Bench comprising of L. Nageswara Rao* and Krishna Murari, JJ., addressed the plight of NEET students. The Bench stated,

“Decision of government not to reduce minimum marks for admission was propelled by extraneous considerations like sufficient number of Dentists being available in the country and the reasons for which students were not inclined to get admitted to BDS course which remits in the decision being unreasonable. Consideration of factors other than availability of eligible students would be the result of being influenced by irrelevant or extraneous matters.”

Observing the scarcity of qualified aspirants, Dental Council of India had recommended lowering of qualifying cut off percentile for admission to (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) BDS course for the academic year 2020-2021. Pursuant to which the Petitioners had submitted a representation to government seeking to lower the qualifying cut off percentile. Recommendation of the Council had been rejected by Government which led to filing of the instant petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Proviso to Sub-Regulation (ii) of Regulation II of the Regulations is as follows:

“Provided when sufficient number of candidates in the respective categories fail to secure minimum marks as prescribed in National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test held for any academic year for admission to BDS Course, the Central Government in consultation with Dental Council of India may at its discretion lower the minimum marks required for admission to BDS Course for candidates belonging to respective categories and marks so lowered by the Central Government shall be applicable for the said academic year only”.

Whether demand to reduce qualifying cut off was rightly rejected?

Proviso to Sub-Regulation (ii) of Regulation II had empowered government to exercise its discretion to lower minimum marks only when sufficient numbers of candidates fail to secure minimum marks. Government could not for any purpose other than the one specified in the proviso to Regulation II (5) (ii). There were three reasons given for the decision not to lower minimum marks by the state:

  • Available seats vis-à-vis eligible candidates were 1:7 and therefore there was no dearth of eligible candidates.
  • Sufficient number of Dentists in India. There was one Dentist for every 6080 persons which was better than the WHO norms of 1 : 7500.
  • Lack of keenness of students to join BDS and inability to pay exorbitantly high fees charged by private colleges

On the submission of existence of seven candidates against one seat, the Bench observed that this calculation of the State was without taking into account the fact that admissions for UG AYUSH and other UG medical courses were included in the NEET for the first time from in 2020. Total number of seats available for the academic year 2020-2021 for MBBS were 91,367, BDS were 26,949 and AYUSH were 52,720 making it a total of 1,71,036 seats. Whereas, the NEET qualified candidates were 7,71,500.

It did not appear that while arriving at decision not to lower minimum marks, the State had consulted the Council in accordance with the proviso to Sub-Regulation (ii) of the Regulation II. Hence, ratio of seats available vis-à-vis eligible students was 1 : 4.5 and not 7. Noticing the above, the Bench stated,

“Decision which materially suffers from the blemish of overlooking or ignoring, wilfully or otherwise, vital facts bearing on the decision is bad in law. There is an implicit obligation on the decision maker to apply his mind to pertinent and proximate matters only, eschewing the irrelevant and the remote.”

The Bench concurred with the argument of the petitioners that lowering minimum marks and reducing percentile for admission to the first-year BDS course would not amount to lowering the standards of education Considering the fact that minimum marks had been reduced by the State for super speciality courses for last year and AYUSH courses for the current year, the Bench expressed,

“If reducing minimum marks amounts to lowering standards, the State would not do so for super speciality courses.”

Hence, the Bench directed that vacant seats in first year BDS course for the year 2020-2021 should be filled up from the candidates who had participated in the NEET after lowering the percentile mark by 10 percentile. The petition was disposed of with further directions to Managements of private Dental Colleges to consider reducing fee charged by them to encourage students to join the Colleges.

[Harshit Agarwal v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 64, decided on 08-02-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

*Judgment by: Justice L. Nageswara Rao

Appearances before the Court by

For petitioners: Senior Advocate Maninder Singh and advocate Krishna Dev Jagarlamudi

For Union of India: Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati

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