NEET-UG: Supreme Court allows OCI candidates to take part in 2021 counselling in general category

The Bench was hearing a challenge to a March 4, 2021 notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs directing OCI candidates to be treated on par with NRIs for the purpose of NEET

The Supreme Court on Thursday permitted Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) candidates to participate in the NEET-UG 2021 counselling in the general category.

A Bench of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari was hearing a challenge to a March 4, 2021 notification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs directing OCI candidates to be treated on par with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) for the purpose of NEET. This would mean successful OCI candidates would have to pay the higher fee paid by NRIs for medical seats in India.

The government, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, justified the notification, saying OCIs were “foreigners” who had pledged allegiance to a foreign state. Allowing them to participate in the general category meant taking a chunk of the seats away from young Indian citizens who aspired to study medicine and work as doctors in India. Ms. Bhati said there was a very high possibility that OCIs would use the scarce medical education resources in India and then return to their countries with their degrees.

The court, while appreciating the point made by Ms. Bhati, said the sudden implementation of the March 4 notification, starting with the current academic year itself, was arbitrary.

“We are of the view that at least for the current academic year 2021-2022, the petitioners are entitled to be considered eligible for all the medical seats which the OCIs were eligible for before the issuance of the impugned notification dated March 4, 2021. Therefore, we direct the National Testing Agency to declare the result of the examination taken by the petitioners NEET-UG 2021 and the eligible petitioners are permitted to appear for the counselling in the general category,” the court directed in its order.

The court, on Ms. Bhati’s insistence, clarified that the order allowing the OCIs to compete in the general category was confined to the 2021-2022 academic year alone.

During the hearing, Ms. Bhati said OCIs had voluntarily taken up the citizenship of another country.

“In every way they have a lesser threshold to become Indian citizens. They just need to be here for 12 months before being recognised as full citizens… Why did they [petitioners] not do it? Why don’t they come like that and act on par with Indian citizens if they want to compete in the general category? So, the crux of their issue is the fact that they have to pay higher fee for NRI seats,” Ms. Bhati argued.

Justice Murari observed that the government recognised these people as OCIs and gave them rights. It was now not right on the government’s part to take it away from them all of a sudden.

‘Not a small minority’

Justice Nazeer said the country was known for its spirit of inclusiveness. Besides, the number of OCIs who had participated in NEET, around 400, was miniscule.

But Ms. Bhati submitted that the OCI cardholders were not a “small minority”. By allowing them to continue to participate in the NEET in general category despite a notification to the opposite would have “wide repercussions”.

‘Nothing against OCIs’

“We have nothing against OCIs. But equating them with our citizen students who have aspirations over scarce medical seats is not fair. That was why the OCIs were put on par with the NRIs… In fact, equating them with NRIs is also not right… NRIs continue to be Indian citizens while OCIs have pledged their allegiance to another country,” Ms. Bhati said.

However, the court said the notification was too sudden. The Bench said the government could have made the notification effective from next academic year.

“They [OCIs] are of Indian origin. They are not outsiders. They have sent dollars to our country. They don’t have money like NRIs… Don’t you think you should give them some time,” Justice Nazeer asked.

The Bench asked where would OCIs go to find the money they needed to pay as fees for the NRI medical seats, and that too, all of a sudden.

“It is a question of balancing,” the court told the government.

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