The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Law route to retain quotas

New Delhi, Aug. 13: The Centre, backed by the Left, may bring in a law to counter the Supreme Court judgment allowing unaided private colleges to scrap quotas for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students.

A seven-judge Constitution bench had ruled yesterday that neither the Centre nor the states can impose seat quotas on private educational institutions that receive no government aid. This means these colleges need no longer reserve seats for any of the socially weaker sections.

“The government has to do something to restore the proper social perspective of educational institutions,” a senior human resource development ministry official said today.

The means to do this is at hand. The ministry, with private colleges under its scanner for some time now, has already drafted a Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fees) Bill to gain greater control over them.

“We may have to take a second look at the bill in the light of yesterday’s Supreme Court judgment,” a ministry source said.

This could mean including a provision to force all private educational institutions to have quotas for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students. The ministry is likely to take a decision next week.

The CPI and CPM have already demanded a law to undo the court order.

“There could be a way to get around the Supreme Court ruling. Parliament can pass a bill restraining private institutions,” CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said in Agra.

“We want Parliament to pass a law to make private educational organisations ' aided or unaided ' meet their social and economic obligations,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.

Officials admit that for quite some time, the Centre and the Supreme Court have been on opposite sides on the subject of autonomy for private colleges.

For instance, the apex court had ruled in the T.M.A. Pai case that private educational institutions should be allowed to fix their fees without government meddling. Yesterday’s ruling is only the latest of several judgments that have tried to free private colleges from government control.

“We can only blame ourselves for this situation,” a ministry official said. “It’s a failure on the part of the executive and the legislature that we have not been able to regulate the private education sector. The court has now stepped into this vacuum.”

Officials hope the draft bill on private institutions 'drawn up following pressure from state governments, particularly those from southern India ' is the answer.

The Centre, however, must walk the tightrope between its commitment in the common minimum programme to preserve the autonomy of institutions of higher education and the pressure to regulate private colleges.

This is not the first time in recent years that the Left parties have demanded a law to overturn a court ruling. When the Supreme Court banned general strikes, they had urged the day’s government, headed by A.B. Vajpayee, to bring a constitutional amendment bill and enshrine the right to strike in the Constitution. The common minimum programme promises to give workers back this right.

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