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The Delhi High Court today dismissed a petition alleging large-scale discrepancies in the cut-off marks for Christian Scheduled Tribes (CST), Christian Others (COTH), and Christian Physically Handicapped (CPH) applicants for admission to undergraduate courses at St Stephen’s College, New Delhi.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar opined that the petition was devoid of any merit. It observed,
“We have heard learned Senior Counsel appearing for the College, and have perused the material on record, and are more than satisfied that no arbitrariness can be said to vitiate the actions of the respondent-College. In view thereof, the purpose of petitioning this Court, by the petitioner, effectively stands worked out.“
The Court recognized that a considerable degree of latitude is enjoyed by institutions in matters of academics.
“Where an academic institution admit students according to an Admission Policy framed by the institution itself, the manner in which the Policy is to be worked is also, essentially, a matter for the institution to determine and decide for itself.”
The petition was preferred by an Associate Professor in the college, Nandita Narain. She had alleged that the cut-off marks for Christian reserved category candidates were artificially high and illegal. It was contended that the College was guilty of “having neglected its own guidelines”, specifically Clause 11 of its Admission Guidelines, in declaring the cut-off marks, thereby denying admission to such candidates.
The College argued that the admission exercise was not a mere matter of arithmetic and was based on harmony of several considerations.
It was submitted that the candidates were called for written exam and interview on the basis of the applications submitted, after filtering out applications that were deficient in respect of documents and details.
It was further contended that Clause 11 of the Admission Guidelines dealt with the ratio of “the number of candidates called for the interview and the written exam to the number of seats available” and was essentially discretionary and for the guidance of the Principal, whose decision was final.
After hearing the parties, the Court concluded that no illegality could be said to have been committed by the College.
“The writ petition proceeds on the fundamentally erroneous premise that the cut-off, for any quota or course was determined on the basis of the last candidate who was called for the written test/interview. The explanation furnished by the College indicates that this is not so, and that the cut-off was determined, using a cut-off generator software, by a Committee comprising senior faculty members of the College.”
The Court further observed that fixation of cut-offs for admission of students to an educational institution, unless governed by some binding statutory or quasi-statutory directive, was essentially a matter for the institution to decide.
“There is, to the knowledge of this Court, no law, mandating fixation of cut-offs in any particular manner. Courts, therefore, in our view, have to tread with great caution, while trespassing on the terrain of fixation of cut-offs in educational institutions, which, essentially, is no man’s land, so far as courts are concerned.”
However, where the exercise of fixing cut-offs violates the law or suffers from arbitrariness or entrenches on the right of a citizen to education, a court may justifiably step in, it added.
The Court stated that the College kept in mind various competing considerations while deciding on the number of candidates to be called for the written test and interview as well as the various “reserved quotas” and that process did not warrant any interference. The Court thus decreed,
“The writ petition is, therefore, devoid of merit and is accordingly dismissed”.
St Stephen’s College was represented by Senior Advocate A Mariarputham with advocates Romy Chacko, Rajesh Roshan and Anuradha Arputham.
The petitioner was represented by Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves with advocate Siddharth Seem.
Read the Judgment: