As students prepare for entrance exams and admissions to professional colleges, parents should draw up a back-up plan by looking for a good lawyer. The field of education has become rich ground for litigation in recent years. There is an element of luck at the tipping point of admissions. The next bet is in the courts that face tricky legal issues related to admissions.
Restrictions on fees (capitation and otherwise), various quotas, recognition of colleges, revaluation of answer papers and scams related to each problem reach up to the Supreme Court. The Court’s earlier judgments have made the field so complex that several questions have been referred to larger Benches that will hopefully be set up in due course. Issues raised in the high courts are answered in an ad hoc manner, “for this academic year only”, till they are finally settled by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, students who gained admission by sheer quirk of law have often become doctors and engineers.
Last month, the Supreme Court stated that “all stake-holders had failed to perform their duty” in the case, Priya Gupta vs State of Chhattisgarh. Two students who gained admission in 2006 without eligibility and a little bit of help from some people were allowed to continue in the medical college by the Supreme Court because they had almost completed the course. They were told to pay Rs 5 lakh to the college.
Similarly, the court showed mercy in a case of “inadvertent mistake” in the case, Deepa Thomas vs Medical Council of India. The gate-crashers were allowed to complete the course. The case was fought under the laboriously but meaningfully-titled Kerala Professional Colleges or Institutions (Prohibition of Capitation Fee, Regulation of Admission, Fixation of Non-exploitative Fee and Other Measures to Ensure Equity and Excellence in Professional Education) Act, 2006.
Crucial aspects of admissions are often so regulated by various court judgments that authorities have to seek consent to change rules. In the case, Anand Biji vs State of Kerala, the Director General of Health Services sought modifications of its order passed in April 1993. The request was granted and this year’s allotment of post-graduate seats will be done through online counselling.
When candidates who cannot get in despite their eligibility approach the high court, it often increases the seats to accommodate them. The Supreme Court has ruled this as illegal. In the case, Medical Council vs JSS Medical College, the college wanted to raise the seats from 150 to 200. The assessor of the council found deficiencies in the physical and teaching facilities available. The college moved the high court, which increased the seats to 200 in an interim order. The council appealed to the Supreme Court, which set aside the high court order.
The power of the university to affiliate or derecognise colleges is a hot point. Last week, Anna University vehemently asserted this right in the Supreme Court against an engineering college that allegedly had no title to the land it occupied. Some years ago, an inspection team of the Bar Council of India visited scores of law colleges that mushroomed in Hyderabad and found one of them had dressed up a marriage hall as the institution.
The subject of inspection before grant of affiliation is a burning issue. Last month, in the case, National Council for Technical Education vs Vaishnav Institute, the Supreme Court emphasised that the regulatory authority must inspect the institution and follow-up action must be taken based on the report. It declared that the Delhi High Court view on this issue was wrong and the Madhya Pradesh High Court was partially right.
Recognition controversies cross national borders too. In the recent case, Mohd Ibrahim vs Vinayaka Mission, the Supreme Court held that the mission’s course conducted in Bangkok was not recognised by the Medical Council of Thailand and, therefore, the medical qualification from there was not approved.
Quotas based on caste, religion, backwardness of the candidate’s district, physical handicaps and all the rest are another fountainhead of litigation. Last month, the Supreme Court partly decided the issue pending for years regarding quota for non-resident Indians (Modern Dental College vs State of MP). Interim arrangements for the current academic year were made and the main questions were referred to a larger Bench. It also held that the handing over of the entire selection process to the state government was contrary to the principles laid down by the court in the famous TMA Pai judgment.
When the courts reopen after the summer vacation, judges will confront a barrage of demands for interim orders for admissions to highly-valued courses. The scores of judgments, rules of regulatory authorities or the vague and political policy statements of governments have not helped matters. Therefore, judges would do well to use the recess to dig deep into all the judgments and rules and be prepared to face the disappointed candidates.