Article 30(1) of the Indian constitution gives the right to all the minorities on the basis of language and religion to establish and administer their educational institutions. But this right is not absolute. This means that the state is well within its rights to force on some reasonable guidelines. In the very talked off Kerala Education Amendment Bill of 2018, the Supreme Court noted that “The privilege presented on the strict and etymological minorities to regulate instructive foundations of their decision isn’t an outright right”. The court also noted that administrative rights and power of the state cannot be curtailed by any means. The government can impose guidelines that do not interfere with the very thread of the rights given to the minority institutions. The guidelines should be of the sort which helps the institution to function.
The St. Stephen’s college was an aided educational institution which use to get grants from the state government funds. The institution used to follow an admission process which was followed every academic year to get new admissions. Being a Christian minority institution, the admission process was of the sort which used to favour Christian students.
In the academic year of 1980-1981the college on May 25th published the admission brochure which mentioned that the students interested to take admission in the first year must send the application to the college office before or on June 20th, 1980. This notification also mentioned that there will be an interview which will be conducted for the final admission into the college.
The University of Delhi released a circular on the 5th of June for all the colleges which are affiliated with the university stating the program for admission into the first year. On the 9th of June, 1980 another circular was notified to the affiliated colleges and their principals that the admission in the BA pass and BA vocational courses will be based on the merit of the marks scored by the candidate in the qualifying test. Also, 10% of the seats were reserved for Christian students. The Delhi University Student Union brought into notice that the college had released its schedule even before the University did.
ISSUES BEFORE THE COURT
- Is St. Stephen’s college a minority institution?
- Is St. Stephen’s college-bound by the university guidelines?
- Is St. Stephen’s college allowed to reserve 10% seats of the college for the Christian students? Is it valid as per article 29(2) of the Indian constitution?
In India, minority institutions have a very significant value and this value cannot be diminished or curbed by the college getting into association with a university. The court also noted the students willing to take admission are required to make an application to the college instead of the university to which the college is affiliated to and the last decision for the admission will be of the college principal. This college is an independent institution that was started and managed by a minority group of people. The court also ruled that the college is not obligated to obey the university circulars as it would undermine its existence as a minority institution. The court also observed that the college is well within its right to itself decide the admission structure and seat reservation as all of these acts constitute the part of administration process which is also mentioned in article 30(1) of the constitution. Although article 30 is not absolute, the restriction should not only be reasonable to the university but also the college (minority institutions). The university notification which instructed colleges to admit students only based on merit without any compensation to the students of the minority community would have stripped the college of their minority status. The 4:1[i] majority judgment also held that the institutions of the minority have the right to reserve at most 50% seats for the students of their community and this would help the college retain as well as enhance its minority status. The court also stated that even if the college is getting aids from the state funds, still they are well within their rights to give preference to the students of the minority in admission as this will retain their status of a minority institution. However, the admission of the students from the non-minority institutions should be done only based on merit. The court said that these differential treatments should be done away with the university consultation and confirmation. The positive discriminatory practice in the process of admission is not a violation of Article 14, Article 29(2) as these are the practices courtesy to which an institution becomes a minority institution which is encouraged by the constitution.
We the people of India understand the importance of a minority living in such a diversely populated democracy. “The first caution is that reservation must be kept in restraint by the stress of competence. You can’t extend the shelter of reservations where minimum qualifications are absent. Similarly, all the simplest talent can’t be completely excluded by wholesale reservation.” said the former Supreme Court Justice honorable V.R. Krishna Iyer. These words are quite apt in the scenario when cases like these are being discussed. Article 30(1) and the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act, 2004 provides the minorities with the right to look after and set up minority institutions.
A majority of 4:1 passed a judgment saying that the college is a minority institution indeed. The judgement also stated that the college is not bound to follow the university circulars as following the notice will result in deprivation of the St. Stephen’s College from the minority status and that the college has the right to reserve the seats for the Christian students as being a minority institution the have the right to do it as under the article 30(1) the minority institutions can reserve as much as 50% of the seats for the students belonging to the minority community.
[i]The majority view was of Kania MH, K. Jagannath Shetty, Mrs M. Fathima Beevi, Yogeshwar Dayal JJ., and minority view was taken by Kasliwal, N.M. J.