SC maintains OBC and EWS quota in NEETs; asserts that merit cannot be reduced to narrow definitions of performance

The Supreme Court said on Thursday that while open exams provide applicants with an equal opportunity to compete, the reservations ensure that the opportunities are distributed in such a way that the backward classes can also benefit from those opportunities which are usually missed by them due to structural barriers.

He said high scores on an exam are not an indicator of merit, which should be contextualized and reconceptualized as an instrument that advances social goods like equality.

“It is the only way merit can be a democratizing force that equalizes inherited disadvantage and privilege. Otherwise, individual merit claims are just tools to mask the legacies that underlie achievement,” the Supreme Court said.

The tribunal, which upheld the reservation of 27% of other backward classes in the All India quota seats in the NEETs for the UG and PG medical courses, said that the binary of merit and reservation is now become superfluous once this Court recognized the principle of substantive equality as the mandate of Section 14 and as a facet of Sections 15(1) and 16(1) of the Constitution.

A panel of judges DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna said: “While open exams provide candidates with equal opportunity to compete, reserves ensure that opportunities are distributed in such a way that backward classes can also benefit from these opportunities. which usually escape them. because of structural barriers.

He said: “High scores on an exam are not an indicator of merit. Merit should be socially contextualized and reconceptualized as an instrument that advances social goods like the equality that we value as a society. In such a context, the reservation is not contrary to merit but favors its distributive consequences”.

The bench added that an open competition can ensure formal equality where everyone has an equal chance to participate.

“However, widespread inequalities in the availability and access to educational institutions will lead to the deprivation of certain categories of people who would be unable to compete effectively in such a system. Special provisions (such as the reserve) allow these disadvantaged classes to overcome the obstacles they face to compete effectively with the advanced classes and thus ensure real equality,” he said.

The bench indicated that the privileges that accrue to advanced classes are not limited to access to quality schooling and access to tutoring and coaching centers to prepare for a competition, but also include their social networks and their cultural capital (communication skills, accent, books, or academic achievements) that they inherit from their family.

“Cultural capital ensures that a child is formed unconsciously by the family environment to access higher education or a high position commensurate with his family position. This disadvantages people who are first-generation learners and who come from communities whose traditional occupations do not result in the transmission of the skills needed to do well on the open exam. They must exert excess effort to compete with their peers in advanced communities,” the highest court added.

He stated that a combination of family habitus, community ties and inherited skills work to the advantage of individuals belonging to certain classes, which are then classified as ? deserve to reproduce and reaffirm social hierarchies.

“This is not to say that passing competitive exams or gaining admission to institutions of higher learning does not require great hard work and dedication, but one must understand this? merit is not solely of one’s own making The rhetoric surrounding merit obscures how family, school, wealth and the gift of talents that society currently values ​​help advancement,” he said.

The higher court added that while exams are a necessary and convenient method of allocating educational opportunities, grades are not always the best indicator of individual merit.

He said that at best, an exam can only reflect an individual’s current competence, but not the range of their potential, ability or excellence, which are also shaped by lived experiences, subsequent training and individual character.

He added that an oppositional paradigm of merit and reserve serves to entrench inequalities by relegating reserved candidates to the sphere of incompetence and diminishing their ability.

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