Supreme Court clears air on OBC cut-off

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  • Published 19.08.11

New Delhi, Aug. 18: The minimum cut-off marks under the OBC quota at central universities should be lower than the cut-off set for the general category by up to 10 per cent, the Supreme Court today ruled.

The clarification had become necessary as certain institutions, such as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), were setting the OBC cut-off at 10 per cent less than the marks obtained by the last student actually admitted under the general category.

Since the last general student’s marks are virtually always higher than the cut-off (which is a mere eligibility criterion) set for his category, OBC students were losing out. Many OBC quota seats remained vacant and were subsequently absorbed into the general category.

A two-judge bench today clarified that the originally prescribed general category cut-off would be the yardstick in calculating the OBC cut-off, but said the order would not affect those already admitted for the 2011-2012 session.

If any central institution has already fixed the quota cut-off with reference to the marks secured by the last general candidate to be admitted, and has allotted the vacant OBC seats to general candidates, such admissions will not be disturbed.

But institutions where the process of such conversion and allotment has not been completed, the remaining quota seats should be filled by OBC candidates under the correct rule, the bench said. If some OBC seats still remain vacant, they can be given to general candidates.

“If the last date for admission has expired, (it) shall be extended till August 31, 2011, as a special case to enable admissions to the vacant OBC seats,” the court said.

The bench was clarifying a five-judge apex court bench’s judgment of October 14, 2008, validating a 2005 law that enables central higher education institutions to provide 27 per cent reservations for OBCs.

On September 7 last year, a single-judge Delhi High Court bench had ruled that the “last general candidate” rule was incorrect. The apex court today upheld the high court verdict against an appeal by former IIT director P.V. Indiresan.

The appellant had cited the wording of the apex court’s October 2008 order, which said the “maximum cut-off marks for OBCs be 10 per cent below the cut-off marks of general category candidates”.

Indiresan argued that “cut-off marks” denotes the marks secured by the last candidate admitted to a particular course or under a particular category, and is not synonymous with “minimum eligibility marks” or “minimum qualifying marks”.

Cut-off marks, he contended, are decided with reference to a merit list, prepared on the basis of the number of seats available for a programme.

OBC candidates’ lawyers, however, argued that linking quota admission to an uncertain and fluctuating benchmark (the last general candidate’s marks) would defeat the purpose of the reservation and deny OBCs their just entitlement.

Justices R.V. Raveendran and A.K. Patnaik rejected Indiresan’s contention, saying the expression “cut-off marks” is freely used, even in academic circles and central educational institutions, to describe the originally prescribed minimum eligibility/qualifying marks. The bench cited the All India Institute for Medical Sciences’ prospectus for MBBS admission.