New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the ordinance on the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET), a single national entrance test for admission to medical colleges across India, for 2016. The government ordinance dilutes an apex court order that declared the NEET as the sole means for admission to undergraduate medical and dental courses for the 2016-17 academic year.

“Prima facie, we find that the constitutional validity of the ordinance is open to doubt," the court said. However, “given that 50% of states have conducted the examination already, no interim relief is granted," the court told the petitioner seeking a stay on the ordinance.

The petition against the ordinance was filed in the apex court on Thursday by health activist Anand Rai, known for exposing the Vyapam scam—an admission and recruitment scandal in Madhya Pradesh.

The petition that sought the quashing of the ordinance questioned the centre’s flip-flop on the issue. The centre had initially accepted the apex court’s order and later partially reversed it through the ordinance.

The bench comprising justices Anil R. Dave, Shiva Kirti Singh and Adarsh Goel, however, made hard-hitting observations about the centre for promulgating the ordinance.

“What you have done is not in good taste. It shouldn’t have been done after the court’s orders."

The government’s top law officer attorney general Mukul Rohatgi defended the ordinance, saying “There should be a presumption of constitutionality of a law passed by the government till it is finally heard."

Over 17 states have already conducted their entrance examinations for this year.

The petitioner said various associations across the country have to be treated with equality under law and administrative authority should be exercised to assure a degree of fair decision-making. The centre had given an undertaking and fulfilled the criteria for a unified NEET, and yet within four weeks, it passed the ordinance, the petition said, calling the ordinance “arbitrary".

Vivek Tankha, advocate for the petitioner argued that the centre and states’ violation of the apex court’s orders as ‘contrary to rule of law’. “Total chaos and indiscipline will ensue if orders of this court are not complied with in this manner," he said.

On 11 April, the apex court recalled its 2013 judgment that had declared NEET “illegal" and “unconstitutional" on the ground that it interfered with the right of private, minority and linguistic institutions to admit students. Following the recall of the judgement, Sankalp Charitable Trust, a non-profit moved the top court on 26 April seeking clarity on holding a common national entrance. In response to that, on 28 April the apex court paved way for holding NEET.

On 25 May, President Pranab Mukherjee signed an ordinance declaring seats in state government medical colleges and government seats in private medical colleges would not be allotted on the basis of NEET this year, bypassing the apex court’s ruling. The ordinance would ensure only private colleges will have to admit students through NEET and state entrances conducted for this year would prevail.

Several student groups had also moved the apex court seeking to delay the implementation of NEET. On Thursday, the court said that NEET would set a benchmark for those who aspire to become doctors. “NEET is not only in the interest of students but for the society at large," the court said.

The court said it will hear the challenge to the order expeditiously but did not set a date for next hearing.