The Union government has told the Supreme Court that it has decided to accept the recommendation of a three-member panel to retain the current gross annual family income limit for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) of Rs 8 lakh or less.
In its affidavit filed in a matter related to admissions for NEET-PG, the Union government said the panel has recommended that "only those families whose annual income is up to Rs 8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of EWS reservation".
"I respectfully submit that the central government has decided to accept the recommendations of the committee, including the recommendation of applying the new criteria prospectively," R Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, who filed the affidavit on behalf of the Union government told the top court.
The government had constituted the member committee, comprising Ajay Bhushan Pandey, former finance secretary, VK Malhotra, member secretary, ICSSR and Sanjeev Sanyal, Principal Economic Adviser to Union government, on November 30, last year as per the assurance given to the top court to revisit the criteria for determining the economically weaker sections.
The committee in its report submitted on December 31 last year to the Union government said, "The current gross annual family income limit for EWS of Rs 8 lakh or less may be retained. In other words only those families whose annual income is up to Rs 8 lakh would be eligible to get the benefit of EWS reservation."
It said that the definition of 'family' and income would remain the same as those in the officer memorandum dated January 17, 2019.
The panel recommended, "EWS may, however exclude, irrespective of income, a person whose family has 5 acres of agricultural land and above. The residential asset criteria may altogether be removed."
On the issue of applicability of criteria, the panel said that it has deliberated upon the vexed question as to from which year the criteria suggested in the report should be used, adopted and made applicable.
The panel said it found that the existing criteria (the criteria applicable prior to this report) is in use since 2019 and the question of desirability of the existing criteria and a possibility of its being revisited arose only recently in the batch of petitions related to admissions in NEET-PG.
"By the time this court started examining the said question and the central government decided to revisit the criteria by appointing this committee, the process with respect to some appointments/admissions have taken place or must have been at an irreversible and advanced stage. The existing system which is going on since 2019, if disturbed at the end or fag-end of the process would create more complications than expected both for the beneficiaries as well as for the authorities," it said.
The panel said that in case of admissions to educational institutions, sudden adoption of new criteria inevitably and necessarily would delay the process by several months which would have an inevitable cascading effect on all future admissions and educational activities/teaching/examinations which are bound under various statutory or judicial time prescriptions.
"Under these circumstances, it is completely unadvisable and impractical to apply the new criteria (which are being recommended in this report) and change the goal post in the midst of the ongoing processes resulting in inevitable delay and avoidable complications. When the existing system is ongoing since 2019, no serious prejudice would be caused if it continues for this year as well," the panel recommended.
It said that changing the criteria midway is also bound to result in spate of litigations in courts across the country by the people whose eligibility would change suddenly.
"The committee, therefore, after analysing the pros and cons on this issue and after giving serious consideration, recommends that the existing and ongoing criteria in every ongoing process where EWS reservation is available, be continued and the criteria recommended in this report may be made applicable from next advertisement/admission cycle," it said.
The panel recommended that data exchange and information technology should be used more actively to verify income and assets and to improve targeting for EWS reservations and also across government schemes.
"A three-year feedback loop cycle may be used to monitor the actual outcomes of these criteria and then be used to adjust them in future," it said.
On November 25, the Union government had told the top court that it has decided to revisit Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria for determining the EWS category for reservation in admissions and jobs, and the counselling for the NEET postgraduate medical courses will be further postponed by four weeks.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas filed by students challenging the Union government and Medical Counselling Committee (MCC) July 29, 2021 notices providing 27% reservation for Other Backward Class (OBC) and 10% for EWS category in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET-PG) admissions for medical courses for the current academic year.
The top court had posted the matter for further hearing on January 6.
On October 21, the top court had asked the Union government whether it would like to revisit the criteria for determining the EWS category for reservation in NEET-PG admissions.