On Monday, the Madras High Court asked the Union Government to form a committee, including Tamil Nadu medical authorities, to provide reservation to other backward classes (OBC) under the all India quota for State-run medical colleges.
While asking the Centre to set up the committee, the High Court bench comprising chief justice A P Sahi and justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy gave freedom to the Centre to decide on the percentage of reservation to OBCs, though within three months.
The court’s ruling was based on the view that there is no constitutional or legal impediment to extend reservation to OBCs in medical colleges seats that are surrendered by the State under all-India quota.
All political parties, led by the ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had filed petitions in the Madras High seeking reservations for OBCs in State medical colleges under the all-India quota.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the only major party that did not take a stand in this case.
Soon after the verdict, all the parties that had petitioned the court claimed victory and justified it as “ensuring justice for OBCs” in the State.
But the fact is that the ruling gives the petitioners the only solace of the High Court asking the Centre to form a committee to provide reservation to OBCs.
We will come to this later.
First, the High Court has ruled that the OBC quota will be implemented from the next academic year and not this year. This itself is a setback for all the petitioners who wanted the quota to be implemented this year.
Second, while the High Court asked the Centre to form a panel to extend reservation, it has given the Union Government the freedom to decide on the percentage of the quota.
This, again, cannot be a gain for the petitioners since they have been insisting for a quota at par with the one prevalent in the State for OBCs.
Tamil Nadu has a formula wherein 69 out of every 100 seats are reserved for the quota system in educational institutions.
As per a legislation passed in the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 1994, 26.5 per cent of seats in educational institutions is reserved for Backward Classes, 3.5 per cent for Backward Muslim castes, 20 per cent for OBCs defined as Most Backward Castes, 15 per cent to Scheduled Castes, 3 per cent to a sub-community of Scheduled Castes and 1 per cent to Scheduled Tribes.
In June this year, the Union Government to provide a comprehensive settlement on reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in government-run medical colleges.
It also told the apex court that it will provide reservation to OBCs in all institutions only within the 50 per cent cap imposed by the Supreme Court in a 1993 judgement.
The Madras High Court made it clear in its ruling yesterday that it will not interfere in policy matters unless fundamental rights are affected.
This is in line with the Supreme Court’s observation that reservation is not a fundamental right.
Thus, the Centre will have a final say in the quota for OBCs in State-run medical colleges in the State.
So, where does the cause for celebration by the petitioners come?
Neither the Union Government nor the Medical Council of India will appeal against this ruling since this allows the status quo to continue till the next academic year.
The Centre hopes that it will get a comprehensive settlement to the issue of reservation from the Supreme Court by then.
This is because it expects the apex court to give its ruling on a petition filed in 2015 seeking 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in institutions not run by the Centre.
This is called the Saloni Kumar case.
The Centre has argued before the Madras High Court as well as the Supreme Court that since 1986, OBCs have been accommodated in the all-India quota seats in government-run institutions.
However, it has conceded that the quota is not being implemented in the medical colleges run by States.
Fifteen per cent of all MBBS seats in the country and 50 per cent of postgraduate medical college seats surrendered by the States make up the all-India quota.
The practice has been in vogue all these years when either the DMK or the AIADMK has been in power in the State and through alliances at the Centre.
Tamil Nadu, in order to protect its reservation policy, has got its quota law included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution that does not allow any judicial review.
It was done to bypass the 1993 Supreme Court ruling capping the quota.
However, the Supreme Court has ruled that such laws can be reviewed judicially.
Though political parties in Tamil Nadu are demanding 27 per cent quota to OBCs, the Centre might not oblige them given its stance that reservation should not exceed 50 per cent.
However, it could increase the number of seats in medical colleges given the fact that it has sought the apex court's view on this.
Currently, seats in medical colleges, particularly in Tamil Nadu, are allocated as per a Supreme Court directive.
In the current case in which the Madras High Court gave its ruling yesterday, political parties first petitioned the Supreme Court against the Director-General of Health Services declaring results to fill postgraduate medical seats for the current academic year.
They filed the petitions as OBCs were not extended reservation benefits in the all India quota. The apex court asked them to petition the High Court.
The Centre opposed any interference in filling seats this year on the grounds that selected candidates were set to report to the allocated institutions.
Any interim order, it argued, would affect hospitals, where the candidates were to join, as they were short of staff to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Thus, neither the parties that petitioned the courts for the OBC quota this year got a ruling in their favour, nor have they been able to get a judgement fixing the quota.
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