New Delhi: The interest of lakhs of aspiring medical students weighed in the mind of the Supreme Court on Thursday as it rejected submissions seeking a stay on the Ordinance allowing states to hold their separate entrance tests besides NEET for 2016-17, saying half of them have already conducted these examinations.
A bench headed by Justice A R Dave reacted sharply to the to the contention of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that it should not take the Ordinance to its "ego" as it pertains to the welfare of students who have prepared for months for various state medical examinations.
"Those states which have held examinations before the Ordinance and after our order, is patently bad. It will be a total mess. Students' future are at stake and their interests need to be considered. They are our children," the bench, also comprising Justices A K Goel and Shiva Kirti Singh, said.
The court, which cast "doubt" on the Ordinance, said it was not staying it because the "interest of lakhs of students were involved" and any interference at this stage would create "chaos" as more than 50 per cent states have already held their separate tests.
"It is disturbing and not proper for the government to bring an Ordinance allowing states to hold their own tests despite our orders... Prima facie, we find that the validity of the ordinance is in doubt," the bench said while agreeing to expedite the hearing in the matter.
It also dismissed the contention for centralised counselling of successful candidates of various entrance tests, saying "50 per cent states have conducted their tests."
Rohatgi strongly opposed the challenge to the Ordinance, saying there was "nothing wrong" with it and the government was "well within its plenary right" to come up with it.
The AG said that by the time the apex court delivered its May 9 order, some states had already held entrance tests for admissions to medical colleges. "National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) is a regulation framed under the MCI Act. When this court restored NEET, it became operational as a subordinate legislation. Government did not scrap or abolish it. Plenary legislation calls it Combined Entrance Examination (CEE).”
"By the Ordinace, parent law has altered the subordinate law. The judgement of this court just said that follow NEET, but it did not bar states from holding exams. It is very easy to say this becomes operative today but it is very difficult for students who have been preparing for months.
"When the plea seeking quashing of May 24 ordinance came for hearing, this court refused to grant any relief. Let's keep that aside. Much water has flown since them. The petitioner is neither a student, nor does he represent students. Whose interest is this," Rohatgi asked.
The bench expressed displeasure over AG's submission and said, "We are discussing about students. This is patently bad. How can you do that? ... 17 states have already taken their entrance exams and 4 states conducted their exams just after our verdict and before the ordinance. This is not in good taste, this is not proper. The difficulty will be to the students."
Senior advocate Amarendra Sharan, appearing for NGO Sankalp, sought quashing of the ordinance, saying it was a "violation" of the Supreme Court order by the government. "It is not about an individual. It is about institution (Supreme Court). If a judgement has been passed, the basis of the judgement has to be seen. The ordinance defers NEET by one year. Final order passed by this court must be obeyed by the government. In substance, the ordinance stays the SC order by one year. The ordinance has created a lot of confusion," he said.
Rohatgi opposed Sharan's submission and said the judgement in the case was still to be passed and the apex court had only passed interim orders.
Senior Advocate Vivek Tankha, appearing for Indore-based doctor Anand Rai, said the Supreme Court had paved way for single-window NEET, reinstating the faith of students who had lost belief in state exams. "The Centre has made the exception by issuing an ordinance for one-year under pressure. And next year also, they might grant an injunction for some other reason. Students were happy with NEET but now the state exams have come," Tankha said.
The court further said, "This year you have exempted states from NEET. This is contrary and in violation to our orders. Prima facie it is not according to our judgement. Somehow this was not warranted. It is not good for students. There must be some uniformity. Minimum standards have to be set up."
The AG replied "Where is the question of blame? The date of entrance exams by states is declared much in advance. Please do not take this as 'ego'. To this, the court said "We don't have any ego. Don't think on that line. Please, don't take an adversarial stand."