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HC junks SC intern policy

New Delhi, Dec. 16: Delhi High Court today struck down the Supreme Court’s policy of recruiting law clerks-cum-research assistants from a panel of just one-and-a-half dozen institutions, saying there was nothing to suggest that only colleges of “known” eminence produced first-rate students.

The single-judge bench said it needed to “look no further” than the Father of the Nation and other great minds, as it quashed the top court’s December 2012 administrative order as “unconstitutional”.

The verdict has come at a time a former law intern has accused a retired apex court judge of sexually harassing her.

Judge Rajiv Shakder struck down the top court’s policy after a final-year law student from Punjab said it was “discriminatory”.

The student of the Panjab University-affiliated Army Institute of Law had approached the high court after the Supreme Court registry refused to consider her application on the ground that only candidates from 18 empanelled colleges, universities or institutes — out of 900 across the country — could be hired as law clerks-cum-research assistants.

The recruits, appointed every year, get a monthly stipend of Rs 20,000 to assist judges by researching past judgments.

Justice Shakder said there was “no basis given for including eighteen law colleges in the approved panel” and “no clue as to the basis for (the) empanelment or shortlisting, as respondent No.1 (the Supreme Court) would like to refer to it.

“What is befuddling is: Is the empanelment based on their location or, their performance or, the eminence of their faculty or, even the availability of infrastructural facilities? In the affidavit-in-reply, respondent no.1 has averred that in the recent past while considering applicants, performance/result of previous five years, library size, profile of faculty and courses offered were aspects which were taken into account.

“The assertion, to say the least, was not backed by any data set forth in the affidavit. That apart, the more serious lacuna was the absence of the benchmark against which each of these attributes were measured,” Justice Shakder said.

The high court said “segregation” of institutions “brings into play the principle of institutional preference”, which couldn’t be “constitutionally sustained”.

“To put it differently, it constitutes 100 per cent reservation in favour of applicants belonging to empanelled institutes. To contend that it is only such institutes which produce students imbued with talent, ethicality, discipline and morality is not based on any empirical data. While the probability of institutes of excellence producing first-rate students is high, it cannot exclude the possibility of several jewels being hidden in law colleges situated in remote parts of the country,” the judge said.

“If I were to embellish this rationale, I would look no further than to the following greats who did not graduate from colleges of ‘known’ eminence,” he added before going on to cite the examples of M.K. Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, lawyer, writer and statesman; and Abul Kalam Azad, India’s first education minister.

“The Father of the Nation… passed his matriculation exam from Samaldas College in Bhavnagar … though he studied law at… London.

“Sh. C. Rajagopalachari did his initial schooling in a village school…. Sh. Abul Kalam Azad had no formal education. He was taught at home….Albert Einstein failed to reach the required standard in the general part of the examination held by the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich though he attained exceptional grades in physics and mathematics,” the judge said, quashing the apex court policy as “discriminatory and arbitrary”.

He said the policy was also “violative of the equality clause engrafted in Article 14 of the Constitution” and, therefore, had no hesitation in declaring it “unconstitutional”.