Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has held that the NRI quota for admission to private medical colleges is neither sacrosanct, not inviolable in terms of existence in any given year, or its extent and the same can be done away with it by the state regulating authority by giving reasonable notice of such a decision to enable those aspiring to such seats to choose elsewhere, having regard to the prevailing conditions.


FACTUAL MATRIX


  • On 17.03.2020, when the NEET PG Medical & Dental Admission/Counselling Board (the Board) convened the meeting attended by representatives of all participating colleges (including private medical colleges offering seats in the postgraduate medical courses in Rajasthan), the unanimous thinking was to offer NRI/Management seats to the extent of 15% of the total admission intake.
  • When the provisional seat matrix was published on 10.04.2020, it did not indicate that those opting for admission exclusively as NRI candidates would be considered as belonging to any other category.
  • On 11.04.2020, the private colleges sent their final matrix to the board. This matrix, unbeknown to the NRI candidates, proposed deletion of the NRI quota.
  • In the circumstances, when the final matrix was published for each college detailing the quotas for individual disciplines, the original earmarking for NRI candidates was absent.
  • On 14.04.2020, a notification was issued by Board stating that that the seat matrix for the current year would not contain the NRI Quota in the private medical colleges of Rajasthan. It read as

“Seat Matrix (13.04.2020) available at the website (compiled on the basis of seats information provided by respective colleges) does not have any NRI seat this year. The candidates who have applied for allotment on NRI seats will accordingly be considered based on their remaining eligibility criteria.”


ARGUMENTS


The students had argued that having held out to all NRI candidates about the availability of seats for that quota as well as the sequence of filling up those seats, at the penultimate hour, the board could not have decided unilaterally or even permitted colleges unilaterally to withdraw the NRI quota seats altogether.

The counsel appearing for the private colleges, on the other hand, urged that the decision not to offer an NRI quota in medical colleges in the state of Rajasthan was voluntarily and consciously taken, given the extraordinary and unusual situation created by the pandemic. The explanation given by the colleges was that in their assessment, NRI quota seats might not have been filled up to the normal expected levels and in the circumstances, it was more appropriate to merge the seats earmarked for NRI candidates with the management seats.

“The accommodation of NRI quota candidates who had opted to be treated as such, in the admission process was transparent and uniform in that all of them were considered on merits for the management quota seats. Thus, there was no real prejudice suffered by such NRI candidates.”


WHAT THE COURT SAID


On PA Inamdar Verdict and its applicability

The four crucial elements in the NRI quota, per PA Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 6 SCC 537 are: one, the discretion of the management (whether to have the quota or not); two, the limit (15%); three, that seats should be available for genuine and bona fide NRI students, and lastly that the quota was to be filled based on merit. However, there is nothing in PA Inamdar to say that a 15% NRI quota is an unqualified and unalterable part of the admission process in post graduate medical courses.

On scope of discretionary power of private medical colleges on NRI quota

A combined effect of the provisions of the Medical Council of India Act and regulations with respect to admissions (which have been progressively amended in respect of eligibility for admission to courses, procedure for admission, etc.) and the decisions of this court, is that private colleges and institutions which offer such professional and technical courses, have some elbow room: they can decide whether, and to what extent, they wish to offer NRI or management quotas (the limits of which are again defined by either judicial precedents, enacted law or subordinate legislation).

However, the discretion of private managements who set up and manage medical colleges cannot be left to such an untrammelled degree as to result in unfairness to candidates. Undoubtedly, these private institutions have the discretion to factor in an NRI or any other permissible quota. Yet that discretion should be tempered; if the discretion to have such a quota is exercised, it should be revised or modified reasonably, and within reasonable time.

On the facts of the case

This case presents some unusual features in that the admission calendar appears to have been thrown out of gear on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. The NEET written test was held in January, and the results were declared on i.e. 31.01.2020. At that stage, and soon thereafter till the end of March, the thinking of the colleges and the board appears to be that the NRI quota in private medical colleges would be maintained (evident from the minutes of meeting dated 17.03.2020).

In terms of the board’s notification of 10.04.2020, the NRI students’ documents were to be verified on 14.04.2020. Apparently, immediately a day after that notification, on 11.04.2020 to be precise, the private colleges en masse appear to have decided not to proceed with the NRI quota and instead ‘merge’ it with the 35% management quota seats, and proceed to fill them entirely based upon rank based merit of the management quota candidates arranged in terms of their ranking and performance in the NEET. NRI candidates were to be treated as management quota candidates, and their applications too, considered on the basis of their overall merit in that category.

Considering the abovementioned facts, the Court noticed that

“Viewed in isolation, this decision is perfectly valid; it gives one the impression that NRI students were not prejudiced. Undoubtedly, the decision to abolish the NRI quota was exclusively within the scope of the private institutions’ decision-making. Yet what is apparent is that by this time, the NRI students had not only started applying for counselling, but had also submitted all their documents for verification to determine their eligibility for the NRI quota seats, and in a sense, committed themselves as candidates for NRI quota seats in Rajasthan for whatever perceived advantages they could reasonably see in their favour. Hence, when the matter stood thus, when the final seat matrices were published on 13.04.2020, it acted to the unfair detriment of these NRI students.”

On relief to the students

In the circumstances of this case and to do justice to all the parties, the Court directed that a special counselling session should be carried out by the board, confined or restricted to the seats in respect of which admissions were made pursuant to the single judge’s directions.

In this counselling session,

  • The board should ensure participation of the concerned colleges; the counselling shall be a limited one, confined only to the number of seats offered and filled as a result of the single judge’s judgment.
  • Such seats shall be offered to the NRI applicants solely on the basis of merit; the seats vacated by such merited students (in the other disciplines) shall then be offered to the beneficiaries of the single judge’s orders.
  • If for any reason, such students (i.e. lower down in NRI merit, who are offered seats in other disciplines) do not wish to take up the offer, the college concerned shall refund the fee collected from such student.

The Court also made clear that this special round of counselling should not disturb those admissions, where students had accepted the deletion of the NRI quota, and were accommodated in the management quota, unless they had approached the court at the earliest opportunity, in April 2020, before the judgment of the learned single judge. The entire process shall be completed with a week.

[Nilay Gupta v. Chairman NEET PG Medical and Dental Admission/Counselling Board 2020 and Principal Govt. Dental College,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 819, decided on 09.10.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: Manoj K. Tiwari, J., dismissed a writ petition that was filed by the petitioner who was serving as Medical Officer in Community Health Centre. She had participated in NEET-PG for admission to Masters Degree Course in Medicine and according to her, she was entitled to admission against the P.G. seat in General Medicine Course in Government Medical College, Haldwani by virtue of more marks; but, the said seat had been wrongly allotted to respondent 5.

The counsel for respondent 2, Shailendra Nauriyal contended that since petitioner had not got herself registered with the Counseling Board for admission to P.G. Courses while respondent 5 had got herself registered, the petitioner’s claim could not be considered for admission during first counseling. He further submitted that the petitioner got herself registered with the Counseling Board for second counseling and, in second counseling; she has been allotted to a Pediatrician Course in Government Medical College.

The Court while dismissing the petition stated that Petitioner herself is to be blamed for not applying for registration at the relevant point of time. No one can claim to be given admission only in Government Medical Colleges, especially when common counseling is held for admission to Government as well as Private Medical Colleges and admission would be given as per score of marks in NEET-PG. [Sushmita Ringwal v. State of Uttaranchal, 2020 SCC OnLine Utt 495, decided on 18-08-2020]


Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of S.A. Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao, JJ., pronounced an order in which it was suggested by Amicus Curiae Kapil Sibal and further accepted by the Court that “a computer-based technological solution which might include artificial intelligence should be advised”  for the purpose of inspections in medical colleges.

The Court noted that various disputes have been observed in regard to the same issue of inspections of various private medical colleges by the Medical Council India (MCI). Contesting parties virtually contest every fact that is recorded in the inspection.

Amicus Curiae, Kapil Sibal suggested for a computer network based technological solution for the above-stated problem and for that he requested for the appointment of Mr Nandan Nilekani who is an expert for this problem. Further, Gaurav Sharma, counsel for the respondent also supported the stated suggestion.

Therefore, the Court agreeing to the same requested Mr Nandan Nilekani to give a concrete suggestion at the earliest. Further, the Court stated that respondent’s counsel and amicus curiae shall prepare a written note highlighting the issues that need to be taken up by Mr Nilekani to provide solutions to the problem stated above. Also, he has the liberty to take technical assistance from various IT companies.

The matter is listed after 6 weeks for further hearing. [Al Azhar Medical College and Super Speciality Hospital v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1633, dated 19-09-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Allowing the appeal filed by the Medical Council of India, the Division Bench of L. Nageswara Rao and M M Shantanagoudar, JJ., set aside the decision of Bombay High Court wherein it had ordered the MCI to inspect the respondent medical college, despite “large-scale deficiencies” being found during an inspection in 2017, and consider the grant of renewal permission for admission in academic year 2018-2019. The Bench held that there is no conflict between Section 10-A of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and Regn. 8 (3)(1) proviso (a) of the Establishment of Medical College Regulations, 1999 and construing them together clearly indicates that opportunity shall be given to the medical colleges to rectify the defects; however, certain minimum standards are to be required. This requisite of minimum standards for availing an opportunity to seek re-inspection is not ultra vires either the Regulation or Section 10-A of the 1956 Act.

Vedantaa Institute of Academic Excellence had submitted an application under Section 10-A of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 for starting a Medical College. The Union of India issued a letter of permission to admit the first batch of 150 students for the academic year 2017-2018. The inspection for the purpose of granting first renewal for admission of students for the academic year 2018-2019 was conducted on 25.09.2017 and 26.09.2017. However upon inspection by the Council, it was found that there was a severe deficiency of proper faculty and basic infrastructure.

The Council under Regn. 8 (3)(1) proviso (a) of the Establishment of Medical College Regulations, 1999 disapproved the application of the respondent college for renewal of permission of MBBS course 2nd batch for the academic year 2018-2019.

The Bombay High Court allowed the Writ Petition filed by respondent on the ground that Regn. 8 (3)(1) proviso (a) is not applicable to the case. The High Court also raised doubts over the fairness with which the inspection was conducted. The counsel for the appellant contended before the Court that the  provisions concerned are neither in conflict with each other nor it’s language is ambiguous. It was further contended by the appellants that the Regulation was inserted with a view to ensure that institutions which do not satisfy the minimum infrastructure and faculty cannot to be given an opportunity to rectify their defects as the standards fixed by the Medical Council of India are the bare minimum and have to be strictly complied with to ensure the maintenance of basic minimum standards of medical education.

Perusing the contentions of the parties and the inspection notes provided by the appellants, the Bench concluded that the High Court interpreted the  provisions concerned erroneously by ignoring the proviso attached to Regn. 8 (3)(1). The Court observed that the provisions in question are complementary to each other as fixing minimum standards which have to be fulfilled for the purpose of enabling a medical College to seek fresh inspection would not be contrary to the scheme of Section 10-A. Relying on it’s decision in MCI v. Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, (2016) 11 SCC 530 the Court observed that medical education must be taken very seriously and when an expert body certifies that the facilities in a medical College are inadequate, it is not for the Courts to interfere with the assessment, except for very cogent jurisdictional reasons, which are not present in the instant case. [Medical Council of India v. Vedantaa Institute of Academic Excellence Pvt. Ltd,  2018 SCC OnLine SC 584, decided on 01.06.2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where a Medical Institution was aggrieved the Government order dated 31.05.2017, which resulted into non-renewal of the permission to admit students for the academic year 2017-2018, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ held that the order was non-reasoned and directed the Central Government to afford a further opportunity of hearing to the petitioners as per Section 10-A of the Medical Council Act, 1956 and also take the assistance of the Supreme Court mandated Oversight Committee. The matter will be taken up on 24.08.2017.

Stressing upon the need to have institutions which are worthy to impart medical education so that the society has not only qualified doctors but doctors with impeccable and sensitive qualities, the Court said that the objectivity of the Hearing Committee and the role of the Central Government assume great significance in this regard.  The real compliant institutions should not always be kept under the sword of Damocles. Stability can be brought by affirmative role played by the Central Government and the stability and objectivity would be perceptible if reasons are ascribed while expressing a view and absence of reasons makes the decision sensitively susceptible.

The Court said that the direction of the Central Government for compliance verification report should not be construed as a limited remand as is understood within the framework of Code of Civil Procedure or any other law. The distinction between the principles of open remand and limited remand is not attracted. It was clarified that it would be inapposite to restrict the power of the MCI by laying down as an absolute principle that once the Central Government sends back the matter to MCI for compliance verification and the Assessors visit the College they shall only verify the mentioned items and turn a blind eye even if they perceive certain other deficiencies. The Court said that the emphasis is on the compliant institutions that can really educate doctors by imparting quality education so that they will have the inherent as well as cultivated attributes of excellence. [IQ City Foundation v. UOI, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 842 decided on 01.08.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where the Government of India order, by which the colleges/institutions have been directed not to admit students in the MBBS Course in the academic years 2017-18 and 2018-19, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ said that a reasonable opportunity of hearing contained in the proviso to Section 10A(4) of Medical Council Act, 1956 is an indispensable pre-condition for disapproval by the Central Government of any scheme for establishment of a medical college and hence the Central Government should consider afresh the materials on record pertaining to the issue of confirmation or otherwise of the letter of permission granted to the petitioner colleges/institutions.

The Court further said that the Supreme Court Mandated Oversight Committee is empowered to oversee all statutory functions under the Act, and further all policy decisions of the MCI would require its approval and that its recommendations, to state the least, on the issue of establishment of a medical college, can by no means be disregarded or left out of consideration. The Court clarified that the Oversight Committee is also empowered the Oversight Committee to issue appropriate remedial directions.

The order that was challenged was the order dated 31.05.2017 of the Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Department of Health and Family Welfare) whereby the conditional permission for the establishment of the medical colleges for the academic year 2016-17, granted on the basis of the approval of the Supreme Court Mandated Oversight Committee had been cancelled and the colleges have been debarred from admitting students in the next two academic years i.e. 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Asking the Central Government to re-evaluate the recommendations/views of the MCI, Hearing Committee, DGHS and the Oversight Committee, as available on records, the Court directed that the process of hearing and final reasoned decision should be completed within 10 days. The matter will next be taken up on 24.08.2017. [Glocal Medical College and Super Speciality Hospital & Research Centre v. UOI, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 846, order dated 01.08.2017]