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SCOPE OF JUDICIAL REVIEW IN POLICIES BY REGULATORY BODIES FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION

- Ishita Jha


Judicial review, which brings realisation to the hopes and aspirations of millions, is the power of the court to pronouce upon the constitutionality of legislative and executive actions of the government. Judicial restraint forms part and parcel of judicial review.[1] However, inheritance of powers, does not come without limits. Under the mandate of the Indian Constitution, courts cannot sit to harmonise the functions of different organs of the State. Their role is restricted in providing access to those who bring to light the darkness springing out of State actions. This darkness can only be tested under the parasol of Indian Constitution.[2] True realisation of the Preamble of the Constitution, which represents the knot of all the Articles of the Constitution, comes home only when each organ of the State works within the conformity of the horizons set down for their limits.

A policy decision taken by the government or statutory body is not liable to interference, unless the court is satisfied that the rule-making authority has acted arbitrarily or in violation of the fundamental right guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16.[3] Dealing with the powers of the court while considering the validity of the decision taken in the sale of certain plants and equipment of the Sindri Fertilizer Factory, which was owned by a public sector undertaking, to the highest tenderer, the Supreme Court in Fertilizer Corpn. Kamgar Union (Regd.), Sindri v. Union of India[4], while upholding the decision to sell, observed that:


“… We certainly agree that judicial interference with the administration cannot be meticulous in our Montesquien system of separation of powers. The court cannot usurp or abdicate, and the parameters of judicial review must be clearly defined and never exceeded. If the directorate of a government company has acted fairly, even if it has faltered in its wisdom, the court cannot, as a super auditor, take the Board of Directors to task. This function is limited to testing whether the administrative action has been fair and free from the taint of unreasonableness and has substantially complied with the norms of procedure set for it by rules of public administration.”[5] Therefore, the Supreme Court here has recognized the suprememacy of statutory bodies to regulate upon administrative matters concerning itself and its operations.


Admission of students to educational institutions, particularly to professional universities, has always been a contentious issue that has resulted in court proceedings. This is more so with respect to medical education. Seats in M.B.B.S., B.D.S. and post graduate medical courses are hot cakes chased by affluent parents for their wards. Almost all the major disputes relating to admission to medical courses invariably reach up to the Supreme Court. The decisions on admissions to professional colleges, especially relating to reservation of seats under various categories and the quotas for admission to the professional courses is only a mechanical interpretation of the relevant rules and contains hardly any academic element. Therefore, courts have seldom interfered in the right of educational institutions to regulate the admission to their institutions, provided that they adhere to the rules and norms prescribed by the university and the government.


In a matter regarding admission to post graduate courses in the field of medicine, when a minimum percentage of marks was prescribed for eligibility by the Medical Council of India (MCI) , the Supreme Court, while considering its binding effect of this rule on State Government, held[6] that the High Court’s decision in holding such minimum marks prescribed by the MCI to be relaxable by the State Government and not applicable to the in-service candidates (doctors) was improper and not justifiable. Consequently, the admissions given to such of the in-service candidates, who have secured marks less than the minimum prescribed marks in the rules and regulation framed by the MCI was struck down by allowing the appeal and setting aside the impugned judgment of the Full Bench of the High Court of Rajasthan and by restoring the judgment of the learned single Judge.


In Dr. Preeti Srivastava and another v. State of Madhya Pradesh[7] it was held by the Supreme Court that excellence in post graduate medical education comes within the standards of education comprised in the admission criteria laid down by central legislation under List I Entry 66 and List II Entry 25 and that State’s competence under List III Entry 25 to control and regulate higher education is subject to the standards so laid down by the Union of India. It was further held that states have competence to prescribe rules for admission to post graduate medical courses so long as they are not inconsistent with or do not adversely affect the standards laid down by the Union of India or its delegate. Prescribing minimum qualifying marks for passing the entrance test for admission to the post graduate medical courses comes within the purview of the standard of post graduate medical education. Therefore, it was held that it is for the MCI to determine reservation of seats, if any, to be made to the special categories, the extent thereof and lowering of qualifying marks in their favour on the basis of proper balancing of public interests.


Thus, the power of the MCI under section 20 of the Medical Council Act, 1956 to prescribe minimum standards for post graduate medical education is not merely advisory in nature, but is binding on the universities. Providing reservation for admission and prescribing minimum qualifying marks for admission in the entrance examination are not merely academic decisions. Instead, they are policy decisions with a social objective of enabling protective discrimination as permitted by the Constitution. Judicial interference in such an area, whatever be its logic and reasoning, may appear to be an encroachment into the inherent jurisdiction of the executive and the legislature to evolve administrative and social policies for the well-being of the people. Passing decisions in matters affecting policy and administration of medical institutions, insofar as they do not violate the Constitution of India, is not the job of the court and must be left to the MCI and other regulatory bodies that have the expertise in such matters.


In the case of Kamineni Medical College & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., it can be observed that, in light of the increasing number of medical professionals joining as government teachers, the regulation enabling conversion of PG Diploma seats into PG Degree seats has been made, which thereby reduced the number of PG Diploma seats in Medical Radio Diagnosis, thus reducing petitioner’s chances of getting one such seat over which she claims to have a vested right. Accordingly, the writ petition before the Hon'ble High Court claimed relief in the form of a direction to the relevant authorities to provide a seat to her. In the impugned order, the Hon'ble High Court has erroneously construed Regulation 3(8) of the 2000 Regulations on Increase of Admission Capacity as a mandatory discontinuance of post graduate diploma courses in all medical colleges and erroneously held that it would deprive the rural areas of medical facilities. The Hon'ble High Court's reasoning is based on an assumption that since 50% of PG Diploma seats are reserved for in-service doctors in rural and/or difficult/remote areas, conversion of such seats into degree seats will take away the incentive for doctors to serve in rural areas, and will also deprive the in-service doctors in rural/difficult areas of opportunity to pursue post-graduation. Thus, the Hon'ble High Court held that the conversion of seats from PG diploma courses to PG degree courses is unreasonable and opposed to public interest, and passed the Order suspending surrender of seats in PG degree courses. However, the Hon'ble High Court has passed the Order without considering the decision making process of the MCI or giving any deference to it. It has further erred by exceeding the scope of judicial review and interfering with a policy decision of an expert body. This policy decision was taken by MCI to account for the shortage of teachers in medical colleges and the increasing demand for PG degree courses. It is settled law that the courts cannot adjudicate and replace a policy decision by an expert regulatory body unless it is shown to be in violation of fundamental rights. In the present case, however, the Hon'ble High Court has erroneously interfered with the policy decision made by the MCI simply because in its opinion, PG Diploma seats should not be reduced in number.


Conclusion


Independence, when not self-regulated, becomes abuse. Each organ of State has its own framework, under which it wields its powers. The legitimacy of the review power stems out of the accountability of every institution, including the executive, to the Constitution. Any institution which transgresses the boundary prescribed in the foundational document is bound to invite backlash from the people. In case of scrutiny of the policy by the judiciary, there is a need to be extra cautious as it amounts to intrusion into the domain of the executive and also inherent limitation of judicial institution to formulate strategy based on budgetary considerations. Judicial intervention must be to uphold the rule of law and not to direct the executive or the legislature about appropriateness of the action undertaken.

[1] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225: AIR 1973 SC 1461. [2] Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, 1992 Supp (3) SCC 217: AIR 1993 SC 477. (“The courts can exercise the power of judicial review in every matter which is constitutional in nature or has constitutional repercussions.”)  [3] K. Narayanan v. State of Karnataka, 1994 Supp (1) SCC 44: AIR 1994 SC 55. [4] Fertilizer Corpn. Kamgar Union (Regd.), Sindri v. Union of India (1981) 1 SCC 568: (1981) I LLJ 193 SC. [5] Id, para 35. [6] Harish Verma and others v. Ajay Srivasrava and another, (2003) 8 S.C.C. 69. [7] Dr. Preeti Srivastava and another v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1999) 7 S.C.C. 120.


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