The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Freedom from govt quotas
- SC relief for unaided institutions

New Delhi, Aug. 12: Neither the Centre nor the states can impose seat quotas, including those for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, on private educational institutions that accept no government aid, the Supreme Court ruled today.

“Neither the policy of reservation can be enforced by the state nor any quota or percentage of admissions can be carved out to be appropriated by the state in a minority or non-minority unaided educational institution,” a seven-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti, ruled.

As these institutions are unaided, they “can have their own admissions, if fair, transparent, non-exploitative and based on merit”. They “have unfettered fundamental right to choose the students and the procedure”.

Unaided minority institutions are free to admit non-minority students as well as students from other states, the court said.

The bench also fixed the ceiling for “NRI quotas” in unaided institutions at 15 per cent of the total seats. It said that “higher fees” collected from the “NRI” students should be “utilised for benefiting students from economically weaker sections of the society”.

But the court puzzled lawyers and college managements by saying committees may be formed to regulate admission to unaided institutions and help them fix their fees. These committees will also ensure that capitation fees, which are already banned, and profiteering are not allowed in any form.

The court, however, did not explain (a) who would set up these committees, (b) whether there will be just one such central panel for the entire country or one for every unaided institution, or (c) if the managements will have representation on the committee(s).

Lawyers and managements are asking that if the committee(s) is formed by the state (as seems likely), would this not allow the government to meddle in an unaided college’s affairs, defeating the point of the judgment' And how does such state interference square with the institutions’ “unfettered right” that the court seems to uphold'

The verdict also sparked doubts because the Constitution makes no distinction between government-run, government-aided and unaided institutions in the matter of reservations.

The verdict is the third attempt by the apex court to clarify issues relating to college reservations. Last year, an 11-judge bench had dealt in detail with admissions to private (aided and unaided) colleges and minority institutions in the T.M.A. Pai case.

But the verdict was confusing and a five-judge bench was formed to explain it after applications for clarification were filed.

But this bench, too, failed to clarify matters and, following more petitions ' including one by the All India Medical and Engineering Colleges Association, an umbrella body ' the seven-judge bench was constituted. Other than Chief Justice Lahoti, its members were Justices Y.K. Sabharwal, D.M. Dharmadhikari, Arun Kumar, G.P. Mathur, Tarun Chatterjee and P.K. Balasubramanyan.

After its ruling today, more applications for clarification are likely to be filed if one goes by the reactions of the lawyers, academics, college officials, students and parents crowding the court corridors.

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