A critique of the Gujarat High Court order denying MBBS admission to a pani puri vendor’s son

In a recent development, the Supreme Court stayed this order and allowed the student to continue his studies.
Gujarat High Court
Gujarat High Court

This case pertains to that of a student belonging to a ‘Teli’ sub-caste, which falls under the “Other Backward Class” in the State of Uttar Pradesh.

The student and his parents migrated to Gujarat, where he studied from Nursery to Class 12 in the SEBC category (as mentioned by the student’s counsel during oral proceedings before the Division Bench). The student, whose school leaving certificate also mentions that he belongs to the Socially and Economically Backward Community (SEBC) category, applied for a caste certificate before the Talati (village accountant) who issued the same under the SEBC category, approximately four years before he was admitted to the MBBS course. The student appeared for the NEET UG-2022 and scored 613 out of 720 marks securing Rank 154 in the SEBC category and 600 in the general category. It was the case of the student that even if he is not considered in the SEBC category, he would have been eligible for MBBS admission in three government colleges under the general category.

Nevertheless, the student applied for admission on the basis of the caste certificate under the SEBC category and gained provisional admission. On September 1, 2023, a scrutiny committee cancelled the said caste certificate as the student does not belong to the caste ‘Teli’, an SEBC in the State of Gujarat. Rather, he belonged to a caste ‘Teli’, which is of Other Backward Class category in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Consequently, the admission committee cancelled his MBBS admission.

The heart of the controversy in this case lies in the caste certificate produced by the student in support of his claim that he belongs to the SEBC category and the subsequent cancellation of said caste certificate.

In January 2024, a single-judge of the Gujarat High Court, in Alpeshkumar Ramsinh Rathod S/O Ramsinh Rathod v. State Of Gujarat, using its extraordinary powers of the High Court under Article 226, struck down the admission committee’s decision. The student was granted admission on the grounds that he was meritorious, was also eligible for admission in the open category, and otherwise, the seat would remain vacant during the entire duration of the MBBS course.

The admission committee then approached the Division Bench in appeal and sought to cancel the admission. The Division Bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agrawal and Justice Aniruddha P Mayee on March 26 set aside the order of the single-judge and reinforced the ruling passed by the admission committee. However, in a recent development, the Supreme Court stayed this order and allowed the student to continue his studies.

What is most disconcerting in this case is not that the Division Bench cancelled the admission of the student , but the manner in which it was struck down. Before entering into the Court’s reasoning, it would be pertinent to discuss the oral proceedings that went on before the Division Bench. There are two problematic aspects I would like to point out in this regard.

First, an impartial viewer would also have been almost instantly be able to recognise the predisposition with which the Division Bench has approached the matter without even listening to the student’s side of arguments. Now, it is fairly common to see such predisposition when the case bears a settled position of law or when the case is essentially a publicity interest litigation, but that was not the case here. When a single-judge of the High Court, by using his extraordinary powers under Article 226 to do justice has delivered an order, one would expect the highest Constitutional Court of the State to have an open mind at least before hearing both the sides.

Second, in a case where a student’s life is concerned, one would not expect a Constitutional Court to act in an insensitive manner. The Division Bench has stated that if the Court grants “indulgence” to such a student, then tomorrow “anybody can do it and get away”. The Division Bench further noted that, if the student belongs to the “Other Backward Class” in the State of UP, he should, “Go back to the State of UP… Compete in UP, who stops you?”

What is most astonishing is that the Division Bench was more concerned that if the student in question would not have applied for admission in the SEBC category, that seat would have gone to another candidate and, in fact, the actions of this student has done injustice to that another candidate. The Court went on to note that, “You took away seat of another student who is from humbled background”.

The Division Bench’s second primary concern was that if indulgence was given to one person, tomorrow many others who have been given this type of caste certificate would appear before it. Now, even a preliminary reading of the facts makes it clear that it was not the case that the student belonged to the general category and obtained the caste certificate through unlawful means. The student’s father conducted a roadside business and it was left undisputed that the student belonged to the ‘Teli’ sub-caste in UP.

The order passed by the Division Bench reinforces the predisposition observed in the oral proceedings. A initial reading of the order brings to light that the Court has not reflected or reasoned even for the sake of argument, whether the order passed by the admission committee is prima facie unjust and whether the student deserves the MBBS admission. After discussing the facts of the case, the Division Bench goes on to state that, “merely by the fact that he has attained high marks in the NEET Examination and could have secured admission in the Open category in any of the colleges in the State of Gujarat, cannot be a reason to secure his admission in the college concerned.”

Much of the initial discussion has been spent on the student not challenging the scrutiny committee’s order. The Court went on to make observations on the validity of the caste certificate obtained by the student, when it was not under challenge before the High Court. It said, “it is difficult to accept that the Petitioner (student) is innocent and he got the Caste Certificate by lawful means…”

The Court relied on certain Supreme Court judgments to support its decision. The primary case supporting the Division Bench’s reasoning is Bhubaneswar Development Authority v. Madhumita Das & Ors, wherein the Supreme Court frowned upon the practice of candidates securing access to reservation despite not belonging to a reserved community.

The Division Bench in the present case failed to notice the stark differences between case before it and the Bhubaneshwar Authority case, wherein the person, a Brahmin, had obtained a caste certificate after marrying into a Scheduled Caste family. Whereas the student in this case secured the caste certificate in 2018, approximately four years before he appeared for the NEET-UG 2022. He belonged to the OBC category in Uttar Pradesh. Moreover, he has studied in the SEBC category for his entire school education and his school leaving certificate mentions that he belongs to the SEBC category.

Apart from this, the Court has not provided any substantial reasoning as to why the student’s admission should be cancelled.

During the oral proceedings, the Division Bench criticised the single-judge order, saying, “This is a perfect case to see how a constitutional court, or for any court should not hear a matter (to exercise powers under Article 226)”. Perhaps that criticism is more apt for the Division Bench.

Priyanshi Joshi is an Advocate practicing before the Gujarat High Court.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bar & Bench.

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