Bombay High Court
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Bombay HC says Fee-reimbursement policy for SC/ST students cannot be confined to CAP students, amounts to indefensible discrimination

The Court held that such "Unjustified classification amounts to indefensible discrimination", after concluding that the State failed to explain its classification of SC/ ST students into CAP and non-CAP admitted students

Rintu Mariam Biju

A Full Bench of the Bombay High Court on Friday set aside a 2013 State Government Resolution on fee-reimbursement for SC/ST students in so far as its benefit was only applicable to students who had undergone the Common Admission Process (CAP) for college admission. (Bombay High Court - GR CAP)

The 2013 policy was effectively not available to students from Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) who had dropped out of government-recognized unaided colleges that had its own admission procedure that was distinct from the CAP.

The Court held that such "Unjustified classification amounts to indefensible discrimination", after concluding that the State had failed to explain its classification of SC/ ST students into CAP and non-CAP admitted students.

The High Court has now quashed the Government Resolution to the extent of its benefits being cut off from students opting for non-CAP colleges, on grounds that the same is arbitrary and discriminatory. The Court ruled

"We, therefore, declare that the Government Resolution, dt.27.02.2013, is arbitrary and discriminatory. It is set aside to the extent it deprives the non-CAP SC students of the benefits. As a corollary, we direct the Government to reimburse 'the education fees' and 'the examination fees' (already paid or yet to be paid by the students) to the petitioners."
Bombay High Court

The judgment was rendered by a Full Bench comprising of Justices AA Sayed, Dama Seshadri Naidu and PD Naik. This Bench was constituted by the Chief Justice to pronounce a conclusive ruling after coordinate benches of the High Court took contrary views in the matter

Factual Background

In order to get admitted into any engineering college in Maharashtra, a student has to appear for a Common Entrance Test (CET) which is held by the State Government.

Once the ranks are determined in the CET, then it would be open for the students to participate in a Common Admission Procedure (CAP) held by the Government and secure admission in one of the colleges that is a part of CAP.

On the other hand, certain other institutions such as the petitioners' Sanghvi College, a linguistic minority institution, is not a part of the CAP. The Sanghvi College has their own admission procedure, which is approved by Pravesh Niyantran Committee headed by a retired High Court judge.

By a Government Resolution dated February 27, 2013, the government had allowed for a 100% reimbursement of tuition fees and exam fees to the students of SC, ST, DT, NT, VJNT and SBC category and 50% reimbursement for OBC students if they dropped out.

However, the Government had restricted the benefit of fee reimbursement to only those SC, ST, and OBC students who had taken admission through the CAP.

This prompted a group of 26 SC/ST students, pursuing their under-graduate engineering course at Sanghvi College to approach the Court challenging the government resolution.

Contentions of Parties

Senior Advocate Dr Birendra Saraf, appearing for the petitioners, in length argued that the exclusion of students admitted otherwise than through CAP from the fee reimbursement scheme is discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The distinction made between students admitted through Government CAP and the other students for fee reimbursement is not a reasonable classification, it was contended. He added that such a distinction would entail creating further categories within castes, which is illegal.

Countering these arguments, Advocate Girish Godbole argued for the Government that the objective of the Government Resolution was to ensure that the fee reimbursement goes to the Backward Class Students who have secured admission through “a transparent, well-documented, well-regulated, and non-discriminated CAP."

Godbole contended that if the petitioners’ contentions were accepted, then all the Backward Class Students seeking admission through Management Quota would also be eligible for fee reimbursement.

He asserted that students securing admission under CAP and those outside CAP form two different classes.

Additionally, it was pointed out that the concept of equality has an inherent limitation arising from the very nature of the Constitutional guarantee. Only those who are similarly situated are entitled to equal treatment, it was stated.

What the Court held

To decide on the issue, the Court examined various precedents laid down by the Supreme Court in cases such as TMA. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka, Islamic Academy of Education v. State of Karnataka and P.A. Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra apart from other judgments passed by the Bombay High Court.

The Court went on to reject the State's submission that financial constraints was a factor for creating a distinction between CAP and and non-CAP students in the matter of fee reimbursement.

In this regard, the Bench relied on the case of State of Maharashtra v. Manubhai, where the Bombay High Court had clearly held that a shortage of funds cannot be a reason for discrimination.

In this regard, the Bench relied on the case of State of Maharashtra v. Manubhai, where the Bombay High Court had clearly held that a shortage of funds cannot be a reason for discrimination.

"We may note one crucial aspect here. The Government's providing the fees reimbursement benefit to the scheduled caste students is not merit based. It is simply disability based - the social disability of caste. Nor can the Government successfully sustain a plea that the SC students getting admitted through CAP are more meritorious", the Court said,

It went on to observe that even admission to colleges does not guarantee the security of an SC/ ST student.

In this regard, the judgment noted, "Pursuing courses—technical ones at that—with poverty hard on a student’s heels is no easy task. As the students from the marginalised sections move up in the education ladder, their proportionate representation falls. There are more dropouts."

"One of the reasons for that (dropping out), it seems, is the financial constraints those students face. And precisely for this reason, the Government has come up with the beneficial policy of financial help to those students."
Court on why the fee reimbursement should be viewed as need-based.

"By providing the fee reimbursement, among others, to the SC students, what has the Government sought to achieve?", the Court went on to query. It answered that the policy of fee reimbursement should be viewed as a facet of affirmative action.

"We reckon the fees reimbursement is a facet of affirmative action. The ‘reservations’ is a correctional policy, not a concessional one. For integrating a historically, socially, and economically marginalised section into the ‘mainstream’ society, education is the sure-fire device. Education not only enlightens but also elevates an individual’s status. It is the 'collective upgrade.'"
Bombay High Court

In any case, the Court found that the Government has failed to demonstrate that those students securing admission through non-CAP are less meritorious than CAP students.

CAP and non-CAP admissions are two modes of admission with legitimacy and legality, the Bench said, adding that there was no demonstrable data to show that one is superior to the other.

With these pertinent observations, the Court proceeded conclude "that the classification the Government introduced through the impugned GO is 'arbitrary, artificial, or evasive.'"

Therefore, the Government Resolution was set aside, in so far as it discriminated between CAP and non-CAP students in the matter of fee reimbursement.

Read the judgment here:

Bombay HC - GR CAP.pdf
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