S. Ravindra Bhat, J.
1. The Medical Council of India (the appellant, hereafter called 'MCI') is aggrieved by the judgment of a learned Single Judge directing it to treat the Chettinad Hospital & Research Institute/respondent institution's scheme/application dated 27.06.2017 as complete and the first consent of application (hereafter 'COA') dated 05.07.2016 submitted along with it as valid. MCI was further directed to process the said institution's scheme/application dated 27.06.2017 in accordance with law by conducting the requisite inspection.
2. The writ petitioner/institute (i.e. the respondent here, referred to in this judgment as 'Chettinad') impugned the decision, dated 06.02.2018 of MCI, recommending disapproval of its scheme for increase in the number of MBBS seats from 150 to 250 seats, for academic year 2018-19. Chettinad sought further direction to MCI for acceptance of its application/scheme for increase in the number of MBBS seats, in accordance with the directions issued by the Central Government (hereafter 'the Union') by its order dated 31.01.2018, and to take consequential steps, including inspection of Chettinad’s college. The latter further sought direction to MCI to issue a letter of permission to it after providing it adequate opportunity to comply with the deficiencies, if any, found upon inspection. Chettinad had established a medical college in 2006; it became a constituent college of Chettinad Academy of Research and Education (a deemed University under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956) in 2008. It is located in an area of 33.45 acres at Kelambakkam, District Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu; it caters to the medical needs of the surrounding villages for diagnostic, preventive and curative services. Further to MCI’s notification dated 11.12.2013 under Section 11 (2) of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 ('the Act" hereafter), Chettinad was granted permission to establish and administer its MBBS course with an annual intake of 150 students. Claiming that over time its college gained popularity, Chettinad wished to increase its intake annually, in the MBBS course from 150 to 250. It applied to the Government of Tamil Nadu, for obtaining the requisite Essentiality Certificate for permitting the increase, which was granted to it on 04.07.2016. It was also issued a COA from the Chettinad Academy of Research and Education on 05.07.2016, which stated that the said Academy had, on the basis of the report of the Local Inquiry Committee (hereinafter referred to as "LIC"), in principle agreed to increase the number of seats in the MBBS course from the existing 150 seats to 250 seats, for the academic session 2017-18. The COA dated 05.07.2016 (hereafter 'First COA") stated that it would be applicable for five years from the date of its issuance.
3. Based on the said Certificate and the First COA, Chettinad applied, by its scheme dated 27.06.2017 to MCI along with all the requisite documents, in accordance with Section 10A of the Act, for enhancement of annual intake in MBBS seats from 150 to 250 seats. The documents furnished with the scheme were (a) Application Form; (b) Time bound program; (c) Demand Draft in favour of MCI for Rs.4,00,000 (Rupees Four Lakhs Only); (d) Attested Copy of COA dated 05.07.2016 from the Affiliating University, i.e., Chettinad Academy of Research and Education; (e) Attested copy of Bank Authorization Letter; (f) Attested copy of Letter of Recognition; and (g) Attested copy of Essentiality Certificate issued by the government of Tamil Nadu. It was alleged that MCI sat over the matter and on 07.09.2017, Chettinad submitted another COA for the academic session 2018-19, (in the same terms as the First COA). The COA dated 07.09.2017 ('the second COA") was sent to MCI directly and was received in its office on 11.09.2017. By letter dated 19.09.2017, MCI communicated its disapproval of the scheme to the Union, stating that the First COA submitted by Chettinad was invalid since it was for the academic year 2017-18 and not for 2018-19. Thereafter, by letter dated 27.09.2017, the Union communicated MCI's disapproval to Chettinad, and the latter was intimated that it should be present for a
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personal hearing on 06.10.2017, which was given by the Union, which considered all materials and found both COAs to be valid. The Union, therefore issued a letter, dated 16.10.2017 to MCI, stating that both of Chettinad’s COAs were valid. In this view, the Union referred the matter back to MCI for review, with a specific direction to process the same for assessment.
4. The MCI in its Executive Committee meeting dated 22.11.2017, reiterated its earlier decision to return Chettinad’s scheme on the same ground that the First COA was invalid. Aggrieved by this conclusion (that the First COA was invalid), Chettinad filed a writ petition, W.P. (C) No. 328/2018 (an earlier petition). In the proceeding, an order, dated 12.01.2018 was made, recording MCI’s stand that its impugned disapproval was merely a recommendation and the final decision on the recommendation rested with the Union. Therefore, the court permitted Chettinad to urge its grievances before the Union by way of a detailed representation, and had further directed it to pass a reasoned order on the said representation within a period of ten days. Chettinad accordingly submitted a fresh representation to the Union (on 17.01.2018), after the Union considered the matter and opined that the First COA with its application was valid, as it was applicable for five years from the date of issue. The Union also directed MCI to accept Chettinad's scheme and process it in accordance with provisions of the Act and the regulations made thereunder. MCI, however, yet again in its meeting held on 06.02.2018, reiterated its earlier decision dated 22.11.2017 and recommended disapproval of the Chettinad's scheme, on the same ground that the First COA submitted along with the said scheme invalid. In these circumstances, the Chettinad filed the present second writ petition (WP 2252/2018). At the stage of preliminary hearing, the Additional Solicitor General’s assistance was sought in view of the Union’s position that Chettinad’s scheme was complete and that its First COA was valid. The Union reiterated its position.
5. The MCI’s position before the learned Single Judge, in the writ petition was firstly that the Union had no jurisdiction to direct the MCI to approve/disapprove any particular scheme, as MCI is the only competent statutory expert body especially tasked to regulate medical education in India. It was secondly urged that once MCI concluded that Chettinad’s original COA along with its scheme was invalid, it justifiably rejected the scheme at the threshold. MCI relied on the authority of the Supreme Court’s judgment in of the Supreme Court in Royal Medical Trust v Union of India [(2015) 10 SCC 19] to urge that the Union’s repeated directions to process Chettinad's scheme were, erroneous and correctly ignored by it. MCI further argued that the first COA was for academic session 2017-18 and though Chettinad was aware that such COA did not conform with the prescribed requirements, subsequently submitted a fresh COA dated 07.09.2017. It stated that though the second COA (dated 07.09.2017) though valid was rightly ignored by it since it was admittedly submitted much after the cut-off date. Accordingly, Chettinad's failure to submit a valid COA along with its scheme could not be condoned, as a valid COA was a precondition for examining the scheme. MCI referred to and relied on the Establishment of Medical College Regulations, 1999, to say that the opportunity to remove deficiencies could be given only by the Central Government, and there is no scope for MCI to grant any such opportunity to the concerned person or college while dealing with his/her/its scheme under Section 10A (3) of the Act. MCI urged that the opportunity to cure any deficiencies arises only at the time of inspection.
6. In the light of the rival contentions, the learned Single Judge proceeded – by the impugned judgment, to firstly analyze the provisions of Section 10A. According to her, broadly, the scheme of that provision envisioned that as a first step, the Central Government, after receiving an application (like in the present case) for increase in intake in an existing medical college, had to refer it to the MCI. In the second step, MCI had to consider the application and adopt one of the two courses: either accept it, or if it wished to reject it, seek the views of the applicant, by giving proper opportunity. The impugned judgment took note of observations in Royal Medical College (supra) to hold that the MCI was obliged to elicit and consider Chettinad’s views, after giving it reasonable opportunity and that on this score, it (MCI) had faltered since no such opportunity was ever granted. It was held that –
'I find that the Respondent No. 2 has grossly violated the same by not only depriving the Petitioner of a reasonable opportunity of being heard, but by also taking an inordinate amount of time to communicate its disapproval of the Petitioner's scheme. The callous manner in which the Respondent No. 2 has processed the Petitioner's application is an instance of the kind of red-tapism that has been condemned by the Hon'ble Supreme Court on many an occasion. This Court appreciates the assistance given by the Ld. ASG and the fair stand taken by her in emphasizing and condemning the Respondent No. 2's red-tapism.'
The Single Judge also held that the Union’s directions bound MCI:
'28. Having carefully considered the provisions of Section 10A (3) and (4) of the Act, and in light of the Respondent No. 2's unequivocal stand before this Court, I find that the Central Government, being the final decision- making authority, has the authority to issue directions to the Respondent No. 2 to process a particular scheme. In my considered opinion, the Respondent No. 2 is bound by these directions of the Respondent No. 1, and any defiance thereof on part of the Respondent No. 2 is contrary to law, especially the provisions of the Act. In view of this conclusion, I find that the Respondent No. 1's finding, that the First COA submitted by the Petitioner was valid, is binding on the Respondent No. 2. Therefore, the Respondent No. 2 has no authority to disobey the Respondent No. 1's directions and refuse to process the Petitioner's scheme, on the ground that the First COA submitted along with it was invalid, when the same had been categorically held as valid by the Respondent No. 1. I am of the opinion that, in refusing to process the Petitioner's scheme, the Respondent No.