Reserve candidate qualifying on merits
Often, in a competitive examination held for the purpose of admission in technical and medical institutions etc. some candidates belonging to reserved category/categories, qualify for the higher ranking on the basis of their own merit and depending on their performance in the common entrance test, are placed in the general merit list. Such class of candidates belonging to reserved categories who qualify on their own merit, to be placed in general merit list, are described, for the purpose of convenience, as Meritorious Reserved Candidate (MRC). It is by now well settled that a MRC who goes on to occupy a general category seat is not counted against the quota reserved for a reserved category candidates, but is treated as an open competition candidate or general merit candidate. This Court in the case of Indra Sawnhey v. Union of India, 1992 Supp (3) SCC 217 has observed thus:
“In this connection it is well to remember that the reservations under Article 16 (4) do not operate like a communal reservation. It may well happen that some members belonging to, say, Scheduled Castes get selected in the open competition field on the basis of their own merit; they will not be counted against the quota reserved for Scheduled Castes; they will be treated as open competition candidates” (emphasis supplied) Even in service matters, the same principle is made applicable. The aforementioned principle of Indra Sawnhey (supra) is followed for admissions to seats in medical colleges, and the same was followed in the case of R.K. Sabharwal v. State of Punjab, (1995) 2 SCC 745.
However, the issue before us is more nuanced – whether MRC can opt for a seat earmarked for reserved category? “If answer is yes” then since MRC exercises the option of admission to the seats in different colleges earmarked for reserved category candidates, should a less meritorious reserved category candidate who is affected by such process be given admission to the college left over by MRC consequently?
This would be better understood by a simplified example. Let it be assumed that there are 100 seats available through one common entrance examination to PG courses in various medical colleges across the country. Of these, 50 are general category seats and the remaining 50 are reserved category seats. X, a reserved category candidate, is assigned rank number 50 on account of his performance in the entrance examination. Thus he is just above the cut-off for reserved category candidates, and has got an open merit rank. Hence, X is a MRC; however, X being in general category is not willing to accept the seat available for general category at the time of his counselling. He wants admission in another college of his preference which is incidentally reserved for reserved category candidates, and a seat in the same is available in the reserved category. Consequently, X chooses a seat available in the college meant for reserved category candidate based on his merit among the reserved category candidates. As he does so, one seat in the general category list of 50 candidates remains unoccupied. In that context, two questions arise for consideration: i. Whether X – MRC can opt for a seat earmarked for reserved category?
ii. If answer is yes; what happens to the 50 th seat which was to be allotted to X – MRC (i.e. 50th general merit candidate) had he opted for a seat meant for the reserved category to which he belongs?
Court has repeatedly including the judgment in the case of Indra Sawhney (supra), has concluded that the aggregate reservation should not exceed 50%. Therefore, even when a MRC opts for a seat reserved for reserved category candidates, caution has to be exercised to maintain the reservation to 50%. So also it is not open for the authorities to deny a MRC a seat in the college of his preference based on his merit, if such seat is available at the relevant point of time and the same is reserved for candidates of the reserved category to which the MRC belongs. This is because there may be instances where a MRC may not get a seat in the institution of his choice on the basis of his own merit in the general merit. Under such circumstances, he may opt to be treated notionally as a candidate belonging to the reserved category only for the purpose of getting a seat in the college reserved for reserved category students. If such MRC is to be placed in the reserved merit list of his category, he would be ranking high and may get better choice of institution or course. A MRC cannot be placed in a disadvantageous position by not permitting him to be treated as reserved candidate, as that would amount to making him suffer for his better performance in the competitive examination.