The Supreme Court has adjourned its final verdict on the NEET age limit controversy to Monday, March 20. A three member bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra, AM Khanwilkar and Mohan M Shantanagoudar heard the arguments presented by the Medical Council of India (MCI) and decided upon the new date. The Court had previously adjourned its decision on the upper age limit from February 23 to February 27.
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The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, which was expected to give its verdict on February 27 in line with the Supreme Court's decision, has also adjourned its verdict to March 20. On Tuesday, February 28, the Allahabad High Court, after being informed about the Supreme Court's adjournment, stated, "It is...informed at the Bar that the matter was taken up yesterday and the Apex Court has been pleased to fix 20.3.2017 in the matter..Let the matters come up on 20.3.2017...In the event any orders are passed by the Apex Court, the same shall be brought to the notice of this Court as well."
UPDATE FROM SC ORDER: As per the SC order released on February 27, if the petitioners challenging the age limit succeed, the NEET application window will be reopened. However, relief will not be granted to any petitioner who hasn't approached the SC or HC before the NEET application form last date. "In case the petitioners succeed, the time for filling up the forms shall be extended. Needless to say, a person who has not approached either the High Court or this Court prior to expiry of the date cannot get the benefit of the order of this Court.", the order reads. It remains to be seen if the NEET 2017 age limit is removed on March 20, and if so, what the recourse for over-age candidates who did not or could not approach the Courts will be.
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Before the adjournment order was passed by the Supreme Court on February 27, the Bench had asked the Medical Council of India whether there existed any provision for upper age limit in the existing Acts governing NEET or whether any such amendment had been appropriately introduced. The MCI replied to the Bench that while they do not have any such provision currently, they are in the process of introducing it. The MCI also informed the Court that it had introduced the upper age limit based on the CBSE’s guidance.
The case so far
The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2017 upper age limit criteria was introduced via a notification issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the NEET organizing body, on January 31. The notification stated that the upper age limit for NEET 2017 would be fixed at 25 years for general candidates and 30 years for reserved category candidates. Till last year, the existing age related clause for the NEET exam regarding the upper age limit had been applicable to 15% All India Quota seats only. Students across the country had raised objections against the CBSE’s ‘unfair’ decision.
On February 10, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Sabyasachi Rai and other students, challenging the sudden introduction of this new eligibility criteria with the demand that the government roll it back. After the initial hearing on February 17, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Union government and the Medical Council of India seeking their reply on the age criteria for NEET 2017. As the last date for NEET applications was March 1, the Court had termed the matter urgent and requested for the Centre’s and MCI’s replies on February 23 so that it could pass its judgment at the earliest.
Adjournment raises further questions
The new adjournment has disappointed numerous students affected by the age limit clause, as it further hampers their exam preparations while raising question marks on how those who are above the age limit will be able to apply for NEET 2017 after the last date even if the SC’s final verdict goes in their favor.
Experts, however, suggest there are chances that the Supreme Court may direct the CBSE to re-open the NEET application process if the age-limit is scrapped. Dr. Anand Rai, a member of the team which filed the writ petition, said to Careers360, “While the delay may be frustrating for students, we are positive that the final judgment will be in our favor. The Court has asked the MCI and other respondents to show substantial reasons and evidences in favor of the upper age limit by March 20. Otherwise the Court has said that if the upper age limit is scrapped, the CBSE will have to reopen its online application interface for students who have been unable to fill the form on the previous date.”
Petition also pending in Allahabad HC
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court is also in the process of hearing a similar petition regarding the upper age limit. The case had originally been filed in the High Court on February 16 and the bench had directed the MCI and the CBSE to issue its response by February 20. The bench heard the MCI and the CBSE’s replies on February 23, and given that the matter was already pending in the Supreme Court, it also decided to adjourn its verdict to February 27. “We adjourn the matter for Monday i.e. 27.02.2017, calling upon the Central Government as well as the Medical Council of India to show cause as to why the petitioners be also not permitted to fill up their applications ignoring the upper age limit of 25 years”, the Bench had ordered. Before the adjournment however, the Court had stated that the MCI had yet to give a suitable answer as to why the Graduate Medical Education Regulations 1997 were not amended accordingly to introduce the age limit prescription.
On February 27, the two member bench of the Allahabad High Court in Lucknow, comprising Justices Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Sanjay Harkauli, had adjourned their decision to February 28, stating, "It has been informed at the Bar that the matter has been heard by the Apex Court and some orders have been passed. Put up tomorrow to enable the learned counsel to inform the Court about the orders passed by the Apex Court." On February 28, the Bench again adjourned the case in line with the Supreme Court's adjournement stating that, "...the orders of the Apex Court deserve to be awaited as this identical matter has been taken up before the Apex Court."
NEET aspirants challenging the age limit will now have to wait until March 20 to receive the final decision from both the Supreme Court and the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
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