The Supreme Court vindicates NEET’s 27% quota for OBCs despite reservations.

Competitive exams don’t really consider the market special privilege conferred to predefined categories over time, as per the bench, and merit ought to be socially legitimated.

A Supreme Court statement Thursday declared that “reservation does not conflict with merit, but instead enhances the effects of it”,  furthermore asserting “lofty scores in an examination are not a surrogate for merit.”. It was argued that merit “should be ethically scrutinised as a tool that advances social goods like equal rights”.

In a detailed order rejoinder in its reasoning for its January 7 ruling, the Bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna backed the constitutional validity of the reservation considering Other Backward Classes (OBCs) for the All India Quota for the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) for the sake of undergraduate and postgraduate medical admissions.

While the bench acclaimed that “competitive examinations gauge primary current competencies to earmark educational means, but are not deliberate of supremacy or efficiency of an individual, which are influenced by lived memoirs, ensuing training, and individual choices”, they also hit bottom to reflect the advantages that certain classes enjoy and the factors that contribute to their success in such examinations.


“Articles 15 (4) and 15 (5) are not an exception to Article 15 (1), in which substantive equality (including recognition of existing inequalities) is set out.” the bench noted explaining how the jurisprudence of reservation had come to establish substantive equality, not just formal equality. So, Article 15 (4) and 15 (5) become a clarification of a particular element of Article 15 (1)” that defines substantive equality.


The State is empowered to make reservations for SCs and STs under Article 15 (4) of the Constitution, while Educational Institutions are empowered by Article 15 (5). In Article 15 (1), it states that discrimination against citizens cannot be based on their religious preference, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.

Moreover, the bench said “Articles 15 (4) and 15 (5) are intended to achieve substantive equality by using the identification of groups”. The bench said this might cause an incongruity in which some members of an identified group that is receiving reservation are not backward or some members of an identified group may share characteristics of being backward with individual members of a non-identified group.

According to the report, “individual differences may arise due to privilege, fortune, or circumstance, but it cannot negate the importance of reservation in addressing structural disadvantages faced by certain groups.”

“An open competitive exam may assure formal equality where everyone will have an equal opportunity to participate,” Justice Chandrachud writes for the bench in his opinion on merit versus quota. Inequities in accessing and obtaining educational facilities will result in denying certain classes of people their opportunity to compete effectively in such a system. In addition, specific provisions (like reservations) enhance the opportunities for disadvantaged classes (such as women) to compete with forward-looking classes in an equal manner.

According to the bench, the forward classes enjoy a variety of privileged advantages, which include access to quality education, tutorials, and coaching centres in preparation for career competitions, as well as social networks and cultural capital (communication skills, accent, books or academic accomplishments) inherited from their parents.

In the absence of conscious training, the cultural capital of a family makes it possible for a child to take higher education or occupy high posts commensurate with the family’s status. Individuals who are first-generation learners or are members of cultures in which the traditional occupations do not involve the transmission of necessary skills for success in an open examination are negatively affected. The forward communities are required to put in added effort in order to compete. Furthermore, social networks (based on community links) can help individuals receive guidance from others about preparing for examinations and advancing in their careers, even if the immediate family lacks the necessary knowledge. As a natural outcome, a blend of family behaviours, ties to the community, and inborn competencies work to the purpose of making a profit belonging to particular sectors, which is then labelled as ‘merit,’ reinforcing and reaffirming social hierarchies,” the report indicated.

It endorsed the Supreme Court found in favour in the case of B K Pavithra v. Union of India, in which a two-judge bench led by Justice Chandrachud “had remarked how fair and non mechanisms of examination reinforce socio economic imbalances.”

“This is not to claim that competitive examination accomplishment or enrollment to institutions of higher learning does not demand a high level of responsibility and commitment,” the court emphasised, “but it is crucial to grasp that ‘merit’ is not exclusively of one’s own construction.”

“The hyperbole about merit negates how lineage, knowledge, status, and a blessing of capabilities, all of which the today’s world praises, promote in one’s advancement. As a corollary, the discriminatory criteria of merit contributes to weaken the integrity of those who encounter roadblocks to achievement that have not been their doing. The theory of merit based on exam scores, meanwhile, requires deeper scrutiny, as per the tribunal.

“While examinations are a crucial and efficient technique of imparting opportunities for education, rankings are not necessarily a good signal of personal merit.” Even so, exam results are widely used more as a surrogate for capability. It claimed that “individual worth trumps examination performance.”

“Roughly, an examination can just depict an individual ’s perceived proficiency, not their fullest capacity, attributes, or brilliance, which are moulded by personal experience, ongoing admonition, and integrity.” Even if it is a straightforward approach of transferring education opportunities, the essence of merit can indeed be scaled down to marks.”

“The legitimacy of conduct and commitment to public service should be viewed as indicators of merit that cannot be measured in a competitive test.” “At the same time, the strength and tenacity required to rise above hardship reflects an individual’s quality and depth,” it added.

Reservation, it said, virtually guarantees that “possibilities are scattered in such a way that primitive classes are similarly able to gain from these possibilities that generally dodge them due to systemic roadblocks,” and that “this might be the only way merit can be a participatory influence that evenly distributes hereditary downfalls and entitlements.” Instead, claims of personal merit are nothing but camouflage tactics for the heirs that undergird triumphs.”

“How we analyse merit should include whether something alleviates or legitimises gaps,” the report claims.

On January 7, the court allowed the Rs 8-lakh annual income limit for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) to be kept in place for the current admission process on petitions challenging the 2-7% OBC quota and 10% EWS quota. March will be the month when the court hears pleas on the EWS question.

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