The good always seems to come with the not so desirable. The Supreme Court has prohibited the charging of capitation fees — even in any other name — by all higher educational institutions. The ruling portends a re-injection of health and fairness in the process of admissions all over the country. “Seat-buying” on the one hand, and profiteering by the educational institutions in question on the other, would become virtually impossible by law. Consequently, merit and aptitude would be the determinants of admission, apart from the reservations and minority-institution privileges already in place. The court has insisted that even within those parameters, merit should be the preferment principle. At the same time, the court has seen to it that educational institutions do not lose out unfairly. Any student who leaves his college or institute midstream would have to pay the fees for the entire course.
In every way, this is a laudable decision. Capitation fees have become part of common practice in a large number of states, and has encouraged a peculiar distortion of the attitude to education. Excellence is now less important than the capacity to pay. Even in a system that might be seeking to privatize higher education, selling seats with regard to profit alone is hardly the way to furnish the country with valuable human resources in the long run. But the Supreme Court has not stopped here. It has proposed the setting up of committees by the state government, to be headed by a retired high court judge to be selected by the chief justice of that state, that shall look into the proposed fee structure of all educational institutions, “penalize” those trying to charge capitation fees in any form, and also adjust the fee structure where it deems necessary. Minority institutions, protected under Article 30 of the Constitution, shall not be subject to such scrutiny, but “quotas” in educational institutions would be subject to examination — and changes, if necessary. Although the composition of the proposed committees has been carefully worked out by the court, this does not take away from the basic fact of direct intervention by the government, together with a retired member of the senior judiciary, in the procedural functions of colleges. It does not matter whether this is permissible. It is certainly not desirable. Intervention is on principle unhealthy, it undermines the independence of one section by assuming greater powers in another. It is a pity that educational institutions have allowed this to happen by proceeding in a manner that could justify scrutiny. The cause of higher education cannot be served by government committees breathing down their necks.