Christian Medical College Vellore & Ors vs. Union of India and Ors.
Four notifications issued by the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India, were the subject matter of challenge in the matter. Notification No. MCI-31(1)/2010-MED/49068 described as “Regulations on Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) 2010, (Part II)” was published by the Medical Council of India to amend the “Regulations on Graduate Medical Education, 1997”. Notification No.MCI.18(1)/2010-MED/49070 described as “Post-graduate Medical Education (Amendment) Regulation, 2010 (Part II)” had been issued by the said Council to amend the “Post Graduate Medical Education Regulations, 2000”.
Both the Regulations came into force simultaneously on their publication in the Official Gazette. The third and fourth Notifications relating to admission in the BDS and MDS courses published by the Dental Council of India, were similar to the notifications published by the MCI.
The four Notifications were challenged on several grounds. The major areas of challenge to the aforesaid Notifications were:
(i) The powers of the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India to regulate the process of admissions into medical colleges and institutions run by the State Governments, private individuals (aided and unaided), educational institutions run by religious and linguistic minorities, in the guise of laying down minimum standards of medical education, as provided for in Section 19A of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and under Entry 66 of List I of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
(ii) Whether the introduction of one National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) offend the fundamental right guaranteed to any citizen under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business?
(iii) Whether NEET violate the rights of religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice, as guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution?
(iv) Whether subordinate legislation, such as the right to frame Regulations, flowing from a power given under a statute, can have an overriding effect over the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25, 26, 29(1) and 30 of the Constitution?
(v) Whether the exclusion of Entry 11 from the State List and the introduction of Entry 25 in the Concurrent List by the Constitution Forty Second (Amendment) Act, 1976, makes any difference as far as the Regulations framed by the Medical Council of India under Section 33 of the 1956 Act and those framed by the Dental Council of India under Section 20 of the Dentists Act, 1948, are concerned, and whether such Regulations would have primacy over State legislation on the same subject?
(vi) Whether the aforesaid questions have been adequately answered in T.M.A. Pai Foundation vs. State of Karnataka [(2002) 8 SCC 481], and in the subsequent decisions in Islamic Academy of Education vs. State of Karnataka [(2003) 6 SCC 697], P.A. Inamdar vs. State of Maharashtra [(2005) 6 SCC 537] and Indian Medical Association vs. Union of India [(2011) 7 SCC 179]?
(vii) Whether the views expressed by the Constitution Bench comprised of comprised of Five Judges in Dr. Preeti Srivastava vs. State of M.P. [(1999) 7 SCC120] have any impact on the issues raised in the present batch of matters?
The Supreme Court observed that the challenge to the Notifications had thrown up various issues, which include the powers of the Central and the State Governments to legislate on matters relating to education under Entry 66 of List I of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution and Entry 25 of List III which was introduced by way of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976, having particular regard to the fact that the previous Entry No. 11 in the State List, was omitted by the said amendment, doing away with education as a State subject and denuding the State of its powers to legislate on matters relating to education except in accordance with Entry 25 of the Concurrent List. In fact, what has been pointed out on behalf of some of the parties is that by omitting Entry 11 from the State List and including Entry 25 in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule, the Union Government acquired the authority to also legislate on matters relating to education, which it did not have previously.
The major challenge was with regard to the MCI’s attempt to regulate admissions to the M.B.B.S. and Post-graduate Courses in all medical colleges and medical institutions in the country run by the different State Governments and by private agencies falling within the ambit of Article 19(1)(g) and in some cases Article 30 of the Constitution as well by introducing NEET. One of the facets of such challenge was the inter-play of Article 29(2) and Article 30(1), as also Article 30(2) of the Constitution. Various authorities were cited on behalf of the different parties, harking back to the Presidential Reference in the Kerala Education Bill case [(1959] S.C.R. 995], and the subsequent views, which have been expressed on most of the aforesaid issues by various combinations of Judges, which include combinations of Eleven-Judges, Nine-Judges, Seven- Judges, Five-Judges and Three-Judges, of the Supreme Court. While most of the decisions touch upon the main theme in these matters regarding the right of either the Central Government or the State Government or the MCI to regulate admissions into medical colleges, the issue concerning the authority of the MCI and the DCI to conduct an All India Entrance Examination, which will form the basis of admissions into the M.B.B.S. as well as Post-graduate Courses in all medical colleges and institutions all over the country, could not be considered in the earlier judgments. As a result, after the introduction of NEET, admissions to the M.B.B.S. and Post-graduate courses and the BDS and MDS courses can be made only on the basis of the Select List prepared in accordance with the results of the All India Entrance Test, which would not only eliminate a large number of applicants from admission to the medical colleges, but would also destroy the very essence of Articles 25, 26, 29(1) and 30 of the Constitution, since admission is one of the more important functions of an institution.
The Supreme Court observed that it had consistently held that the right to administer an educational institution would also include the right to admit students, which right could not be taken away on the basis of Notifications issued by the MCI and the DCI which had no authority, either under the 1956 Act or the 1948 Act, to do so. The MCI and the DCI are creatures of Statute, having been constituted under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and the Dentists Act, 1948, and have, therefore, to exercise the jurisdiction vested in them by the Statutes and they cannot wander beyond the same. Of course, under section 33 of the 1956 Act and section 20 of the 1948 Act, power has been reserved to the two Councils to frame Regulations to carry out the purposes of their respective Acts. It is pursuant to such power that the MCI and the DCI has framed the Regulations of 1997, 2000 and 2007, which set the standards for maintaining excellence of medical education in India. The right of the MCI and the DCI to prescribe such standards has been duly recognised by the Courts. However, such right cannot be extended to controlling all admissions to the M.B.B.S., the B.D.S. and the Post-graduate Courses being run by different medical institutions in the country. At best, a certain degree of control may be exercised in regard to aided institutions, where on account of the funds being provided by the Government, it may have a say in the affairs of such institutions.
The questions have already been considered and decided in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case, wherein, it was categorically held that the right to admit students being an essential facet of the right of a private medical institution, and, in particular, minority institutions which were unaided, non-capitation fee educational institutions, so long as the process of admission to such institutions was transparent and merit was adequately taken care of, such right could not be interfered with. Even with regard to aided minority educational institutions it was indicated that such institutions would also have the same right to admit students belonging to their community, but, at the same time, it should also admit a reasonable number of non-minority students which has been referred to as the “sprinkling effect” in the Kerala Education Bill case.
The rights of private individuals to establish and administer educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution are now well-established and do not require further elucidation. The rights of unaided and aided religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice under Article 19(1)(g), read with Article 30 of the Constitution, have come to be crystalised in the various decisions of the Supreme Court, which have settled the law that the right to admit students in the different educational and medical institutions is an integral part of the right to administer and cannot be interfered with except in cases of maladministration or lack of transparency. The impugned Regulations, which are in the nature of delegated legislation, will have to make way for the Constitutional provisions. The freedom and rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26 and 30 of the Constitution to all citizens to practise any trade or profession and to religious minorities to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of Part III of the Constitution, and further to maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes as guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, read with the rights guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution, are also well-established by various pronouncements of the Supreme Court. Over and above the aforesaid freedoms and rights is the right of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture of their own, to conserve the same under Article 29(1) of the Constitution.
Nowhere in the 1956 Act nor in the MCI Regulations, has the Council been vested with any authority to either conduct examinations or to direct that all admissions into different medical colleges and institutions in India would have to be on the basis of one common National Eligibility- cum-Entrance Test, thereby effectively taking away the right of the different medical colleges and institutions, including those run by religious and linguistic minorities, to make admissions on the basis of their own rules and procedures.
In view of the rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution, the provisions of Article 30 should have been redundant, but for the definite object that the framers of the Constitution had in mind that religious and linguistic minorities should have the fundamental right to preserve their traditions and religious beliefs by establishing and administering educational institutions of their choice. There is no material on record to even suggest that the Christian Medical College, Vellore, or its counter-part in Ludhiana, St. John’s College, Bangalore, or the linguistic minority institutions and other privately-run institutions, aided and unaided, have indulged in any malpractice in matters of admission of students or that they had failed the triple test referred to in P.A. Inamdar’s case. On the other hand, according to surveys held by independent entities, CMC, Vellore and St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, have been placed among the top Medical Colleges in the country and have produced some of the most brilliant and dedicated doctors in the country believing in the philosophy of the institutions based on Christ’s ministry of healing and caring for the sick and maimed.
The Supreme Court thus observed that what can ultimately be culled out from the various observations made in the decisions on the issue, commencing from the Kerala Education Bill case to recent times, is that admissions to educational institutions have been held to be part and parcel of the right of an educational institution to administer and the same cannot be regulated, except for the purpose of laying down standards for maintaining the excellence of education being provided in such institutions. In the case of aided institutions, it has been held that the State and other authorities may direct a certain percentage of students to be admitted other than by the method adopted by the institution. However, in cases of unaided institutions, the position is that except for laying down standards for maintaining the excellence of education, the right to admit students into the different courses could not be interfered with. In the case of aided minority institutions, it has been held that the authority giving aid has the right to insist upon the admission of a certain percentage of students not belonging to the minority community, so as to maintain the balance of Article 19(2) and Article 30(1) of the Constitution. Even with regard to unaided minority institutions, the view is that while the majority of students to be admitted should be from the minority community concerned, a certain percentage of students from other communities should also be admitted to maintain the secular character of education in the country in what has been described as a “sprinkling effect”.
The Regulations and the amendments thereto have been framed by the MCI and the DCI with the previous permission of the Central Government under Entry 66, List I, but that the Regulations cannot prevail over the constitutional guarantees under Articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26, 29(1) and 30 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held that the “Regulations on Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) 2010 (Part II)” and the “Post Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) Regulation, 2010 (Part II)”, whereby the Medical Council of India introduced the single National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test and the corresponding amendments in the Dentists Act, 1948, are ultra vires the provisions of Articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26(a), 29(1) and 30(1) of the Constitution, since they have the effect of denuding the States, State-run Universities and all medical colleges and institutions, including those enjoying the protection of the above provisions, from admitting students to their M.B.B.S., B.D.S. and Post- graduate courses, according to their own procedures, beliefs and dispensations, which has been found by the Supreme Court in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case, to be an integral facet of the right to administer. The role attributed to and the powers conferred on the MCI and the DCI under the provisions of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and the Dentists Act, 1948, do not contemplate anything different and are restricted to laying down standards which are uniformly applicable to all medical colleges and institutions in India to ensure the excellence of medical education in India. Also the Medical Council of India was held not empowered under the 1956 Act to actually conduct the NEET.