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No tearing hurry to roll out 50% reservation for locals this academic year; appears that NLU Delhi succumbed to govt pressure: Delhi HC

Granting interim relief to the petitioners, the Court held there was "no tearing hurry" to roll out the reservation for the academic year 2020-21.

Aditi Singh

While staying the move to introduce 50% horizontal reservation at National Law University, Delhi (NLU Delhi) for local candidates, the Delhi High Court today observed that the University succumbed to pressure exerted by the Delhi government.

Granting interim relief to the petitioners, the Court held there was "no tearing hurry" to roll out the reservation for the academic year 2020-21 (Balvinder Sangwan v. NCT of Delhi & Ors).

A Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad opined that the decision for providing horizontal reservation was taken by University administration in haste without acting in accordance with the NLU Delhi Act.

Students of NLU Delhi had filed a petition against the introduction of 50% horizontal reservation at the University for candidates who have cleared their qualifying examinations from institutes in Delhi.

One of the other petitioners, Pia Singgh, intended to pursue an LL.M. from NLU Delhi after graduating from a University in Rajasthan.

While the petitioners contended that reservation for Delhi students was contrary to the NLU Delhi Act, the Delhi government stated that the impugned decision was in furtherance of its reservation policy in all state universities.

The Court took judicial notice of the fact that NLU Delhi had been imparting quality education in the field of law for the past several years and attracted meritorious students from all over the country.

It also dismissed contentions that the petitioners - alumni of NLU Delhi - had no locus standi to move the Court.

"The petitioners cannot be treated as meddlesome interlopers and busy bodies who have nothing to do with the functioning of the University and its prestige. They are also concerned with the increase in the number of seats which is bound to affect the existing infrastructure of the University."

The Court stated that under the NLU Delhi Act, it was the Governing Council headed by the Chancellor i.e Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, that was empowered to take decisions on all important matters relating to the University and its functioning.

It was stated that the issue of increasing seats and implementing reservation for OBCs and other weaker sections of the society was taken up from time to time by the Governing Council. Subsequently, a Committee under the Chairmanship of the Supreme Court's Justice NV Ramana was also constituted to look into the issue.

Observing that no recommendation was placed before the Governing Council from the Committee, the Court stated,

"Prima facie it appears that the Governing Council which under the Act, is the authority empowered to formulate and review the broad policies of the University from time to time, has been completely bypassed...It appears that the respondent No.3/NLU, Delhi succumbed to the pressure that was being constantly exerted by the respondent No.1/GNCTD (to reserve seats for locals) only to buy peace and without awaiting the recommendations of the Committee constituted by the Governing Council. When the Governing Council is the Supreme Body and the Statute vests powers on it to take all policy decisions relating to the University, it is incomprehensible as to how the Council could be side-stepped and the impugned Admission Notification dated 14.01.2020 and the Admission Guidelines be issued providing for horizontal."
Delhi High Court

The Court reiterated that when a statute provides for a thing to be done in a particular manner, it has to be done in that manner only. It concluded that the prima facie, the impugned decision was in violation of the NLU Delhi Act.

The Court opined that if the decision qua academic session 2020-2021 was not stayed, grave prejudice would be caused to the potential candidates for that year.

Recording that applications for admission had already dropped from 24,000 last year to approximately 18,000 this year, the Court stated,

"This significant reduction in the number of applications received by the respondent No.3/NLU, Delhi, is a telling comment on the change made in the admission policy for the academic year 2020-21."

Delhi High Court

It was thus ordered,

"Status quo ante as of the previous academic year shall be maintained for making admissions to the BA LL.B (Five Year Programme) and LL.M (One Year Programme) in NLU, Delhi, for the academic year 2020-21. The respondent No.3/NLU is directed to issue a public notice on or before 02.07.2020, informing the public at large about the decision taken above and granting a further period of one week from the date of issuance of public notice to enable interested candidates to submit their applications for admission."

The redrawn schedule will not interfere with the entrance examinations that are to take place in August 2020, the Court clarified.

The Court also made it clear that the views expressed in this order are prima facie in nature and limited to the interim relief prayed for. The larger issues, including the extent to which the state government can intrude into the autonomy of a University, would be taken up at the stage of final arguments.

Read the Judgment:

Balvinder Sangwan vs GNCT of Delhi & Ors.pdf
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