Follow DU's policy for admission to non-minority seats: HC directs St Stephen's

New Delhis prestigious St Stephens college has invited applications from Bangladeshi students to join the three-year bachelors programme taught at the premium education institution. The move is part of Indias efforts to cement its ties with Bangladesh as it marks 50 years of independence of the south Asian country.
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New Delhi: Holding that the rights accorded to a minority institution under the Constitution cannot be extended to non-minorities, the Delhi High Court directed the St Stephen's College on Monday to follow the admission policy formulated by the Delhi University and give 100 per cent weightage to the CUET-2022 score while granting admission to non-minority students in its undergraduate courses.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma said the college has the authority to conduct interviews, in addition to the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), for the admission of Christian students but it cannot force the non-minority candidates to additionally undergo an interview.

The bench, while asking St Stephen's to withdraw its prospectus giving 15 per cent weightage to "interview" for admission to these unreserved seats, besides taking into consideration the CUET score of a candidate, however, ruled that the DU "cannot insist upon a single merit list for admission of candidates belonging to the Christian community regardless of denomination etc."

The court's order came on petitions filed by a law student and the college with respect to the legality of the admission procedure for admission of students against unreserved non-minority seats for UG courses.

The court observed that the CUET was meant to "standardise and uniformalise the process of evaluation" by providing a "level playground" to students for proving their merit in the context of varying standards of different boards of education and therefore, conducting an "interview over and above the CUET has the potential of introducing subjectivity and bias into the admission process, thereby eroding the very purpose for which the CUET is being brought into play".

"The court is of the opinion that while the petitioner-college retains its authority to conduct interviews in addition to the CUET for the admission of students belonging to the minority community, it cannot devise a policy that forces the non-minority community to undergo an interview as well. Therefore, the right of the petitioner-college to conduct interviews and accord to them 15 per cent weightage for the purpose of admitting students does not extend to non-minority students and solely pertains to its minority students," the court said.

"The petitioner-college is, therefore, directed to follow the admission policies for the year 2022-2023 as formulated by respondent no.1 (DU). Further, in accordance with the subsequent communication dated 24.05.2022, the petitioner-college must withdraw its admission prospectus and issue a public notice, declaring the amended admission procedure," it added.

The college, represented by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, had challenged the DU's letter asking it to withdraw its prospectus, which gave 85 per cent weightage to the CUET and 15 per cent weightage to the college interview for admission to its unreserved seats in UG courses.

The other petitioner, law student Konika Poddar, who was represented by senior advocate Arun Bhardwaj and lawyer Akash Vajpai, had sought a direction to the college to conduct the admission process for its "unreserved seats" only based on the CUET marks of the students.

The college had argued that being a minority institution, it had the right to select students for admission in accordance with its own procedure and the Supreme Court has allowed it to adopt interview as one of the criteria for admission to UG courses for both the general and minority categories.

In its 95-page order, the court held that Article 30(1) of the Constitution, which grants the right to minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice, is not absolute and the State has the right to formulate regulations concerning its administration to the extent that it is for the furtherance of the interest of that community and prevents maladministration.

While the protection under Article 30(1) can be extended for allowing a minority institution to sub-classify the reservation accorded to the minority community, an aided minority educational institution affiliated with a university must follow the norms and procedure of that university, the court added.

"The object of conferring the special protection by way of a right on minorities under Article 30 is to ensure that there will be equality between the majority and the minorities. This right, however, is subject to Article 29(2), which provides that no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

"These two fundamental rights have been reconciled by the Supreme Court by noting that an aided minority educational institution would not lose its minority character if it admits non-minority students and therefore, would manage to preserve both Article 29(2) and Article 30(1)," it observed.

"This court respectfully disagrees with the contention of the learned ASG (Chetan Sharma for DU) that a single merit list for the candidates belonging to the Christian community, regardless of any denominations or sub-sects or sub-categories within the Christian minority community, must be given. Any such protection would fall foul of the judicial pronouncements on the instant subject and would not be within the four corners of reasonableness and would not be furthering the right of the minority community itself as it would alter the right of a minority institution under Article 30(1)," it said.  

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