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Classification between students from traditional university and Distance Learning patently discriminatory: Delhi HC

The judgement was passed in a case concerning the cancellation of admission of Petitioners in institutions under GGSIU.

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court has held that classification between students who acquire their qualifications via recognized Open Distance Learning (ODL) institutions and those who acquire the same qualification through traditional universities is “patently discriminatory”. (MO Kareem vs GGSIU & Ors)

The judgement was passed by a single Judge Bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher in two petitions concerning the cancellation of admission of the Petitioners in institutions under the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.

The admission of Petitioners, MO Kareem and Jasleen Kaur, was cancelled qua the Master of Computer Applications (MCA) programme after they had gained admission.

While Petitioner Kareem had obtained his BCA qualification from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Petitioner Kaur has obtained her BCA qualification from the School of Open and Distant Learning, Jamia Hamdard (deemed to be University) [Jamia Hamdard].

The admission was cancelled after the issue as to whether their bachelors qualification i.e. BCA was equivalent to that offered via traditional University was put before the Equivalence Committee (EC) of the University on two occasions and an unfavourable decision was taken.

The Petitioners argued that the decision to cancel the admission was flawed because it violated the principles of natural justice.

It was added that once the Petitioners were allowed to seek admission after due verification of documents, the University was estopped in law from cancelling the admission.

The Petitioners further argued the BCA programme offered by both IGNOU and Jamia Hamdard was recognized by the University Grants Commission, and thus, they had to be treated at par with a BCA programme offered by a traditional university.

The University, on the other hand, submitted that since the members of the EC were "domain experts", the Court ought not to interdict their decision.

The Univeristy maintained that BCA acquired by the Petitioners via ODL institutions could not be equated with the qualification obtained by a student from a traditional institute/college.

The University relied on the clause 2.1.3 of their “Admission Brochure for Academic Session 2019-20” to state that the petitioners did not meet the eligibility criteria as they had not pursued a “full-time” course.

It was added that a mistake was made while scrutinizing the documents submitted by the Petitioners at the time of "provisional admission" and once this aspect was brought to the notice of the University, corrective measures were taken.

The University Grants Commission submitted that BCA degree awarded to students of IGNOU or Jamia Hamdard would have the same weight and recognition as that which is accorded to a corresponding BCA degree awarded by a traditional University.

In view of the submissions made by the parties, the Court opined that ordinarily, the courts would not interfere with the decisions of bodies which have domain expertise, however, it did not mean that their decisions were not justiciable.

The Court noted that neither in the preceeding academic session nor in the entrance test for the current academic session, had the University discriminated among students who had acquired qualification through traditional university or an ODL institution.

Further considering the fact that the issue was first referred to the University's EC, the Court observed that the University was itself "unsure" as to whether or not those who had obtained their BCA qualification via ODL institutions were ineligible for being admitted to the MCA programme.

The Court then perused the EC's conclusion and remarked,

"The EC reports placed before me do not even remotely suggest that it conducted an exercise of ascertaining as to whether the standards and norms of the BCA course offered by IGNOU and School of Open and Distance Learning, Jamia Hamdard, were at par with those which are offered by traditional universities."

The Court further relied on the Supreme Court's decisions in Abdul Motin v. Manisankar Maiti (2018) and Annamalai University vs. Secretary to Government, Information and Tourism, Department and Others (2009) to observe that the exclusion of persons from access to higher education only on the ground that they had acquired their qualification from a non-formal sector (ODL) was unfair.

In view of the above, the Court concluded that even if the students were aware of the eligibility criteria provided in the Admission Brochure and had thus merely gained provisional admission, it would not help the Univerisity's cause as the condition was clearly violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

“The classification between the students who had acquired their BCA qualifications via ODL institutions as against those who acquired the same through traditional universities is not based on any intelligible differentia. The classification is patently discriminatory as it unreasonably excludes students from access to higher education only because they obtained their BCA qualification from ODL institutes."
Delhi High court

The Court explained that if the object of the purported classification was to ensure that the best students were admitted to the MCA programme, the same failed in view of the fact that the Petitioners had competed against those who had acquired their BCA qualifications via traditional universities by sitting for the 2019 Entrance Exam.

It was therefore concluded,

"Therefore, to my mind, besides anything else, Clause 2.1.3 of the Admission Brochure falls foul of Article 14 of the Constitution and hence would have to be struck down to the extent that it denies admission to those candidates who have acquired their basic BCA qualifications via ODL institutions."
Delhi High court
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