Delhi HC struck down UGC Regulations 5.4 ruling it as arbitrary

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Delhi High Court in its historic judgment on Monday, October 1, 2018 stood by the students and rebuked JNU and UGC for its 2016 Regulations which the Court declared, “without proper application of mind”, and decided the arbitrary rules are causing reductions in intake of number of students in Ph.D. and M.Phil. courses.

Facts of the case

A new policy was put forward by JNU on February 3, 2017 which stated that admission to M.Phil/Ph.D. courses will be done on the basis of University Grants Commission (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of M.Phil./Ph.D. Degrees) Regulations, 2016 (UGC 2016 Regulations) and 80% weightage would be given in the written exam and 20% weightage to viva voce for final selection, apart from the suggestion of a phased reduction in intake of students (see, March 17, 2017 ruling of Delhi High Court).

The petitioners, Student Federation of India [Student federation of India Ltd and others v. UOI] and Arun Krishnan represented by their advocate Gaurav Bharadwaj further alleged that, “current admission policy of JNU, which is ultra vires the Article 14 of the Constitution and also regulation 5.5.2 of the UGC Regulations which directs higher educational institutions to notify well in advance … all relevant information.”

Advocate Bharadwaj explained, “UGC 2016 Regulations are unreasonable, arbitrary and unconstitutional for several reasons” as it was alleged that for students of both reserved and non-reserved category the rules are ultra vires with respect to the special  provisions created under the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation In Admission) Act, 2006 (CEI Act), pursuant to the amendment to Article 15. Further, “regulation 5.4.1 of the UGC Regulations of 2016 reduce the written examination as a mere qualifying process which means that the candidate whose eligibility on account of passing or clearing the examination would be of no avail.”

Court ruling

The case was presented in the Court of Honourable Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and A. K. Chawla who took note of all the relevant arguments put forth by counsels from both the petitioners and the respondents. The Court held Regulation 5.4 of the University Grants Commission (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of M.Phil./Ph.D. Degrees) Regulations, 2016 “to be plainly or manifestly arbitrary or unreasonable” and needed to be struck down.

Placing reliance on the Supreme Court judgment in Ajay Hasia v Khalid Mujib 1981 SCR (2) 79, where it was held: “having  regard  to the  drawbacks  and  deficiencies  in  the  oral  interview  test  and the  conditions  prevailing  in  the  country,  particularly  when there  is  deterioration  in  moral  values  and  corruption  and nepotism  are  very  much  on  the  increase,  allocation  of  a  high percentage  of   marks  for  the  oral  interview  as  compared  to the  marks  allocated  for  the  written  test,  cannot  be  accepted  by the  Court  as  free  from  the  vice  of  arbitrariness.”

the Delhi High Court stated,

Academics are no doubt brilliant in their fields; however they are not immune to baser tendencies, such as unconscious bias (subject matter, mannerisms, perceived lack of respect, etc). This can tend to cloud their wisdom and conferring the exclusive power to admit a student at M.Phil./Ph.D. levels would therefore be arbitrary.”

The Delhi High Court drew a distinction between admission to an academic course, through written examination and viva voce marks or exclusively based on interview and opined that if viva voce marks are the only one “given 100% weightage it would be arbitrary” and held that admission to academic courses and in the case of recruitment to service posts “the position might be different.”

The Court further clarified, “given the pattern of admission and the procedure adopted where 100% or entire weightage is given to the interview process, the possibility of bias and also adverse impact to SC/ST and other reserved category candidates is palpable and real. Discretion, wherever allowed, is to be minimized; more so when it concerns admission to academic institutions.”

Impact of the judgment

It was observed by the Delhi High Court that in wrongful implementation of UGC 2016 Regulations in JNU there was a “drastic reduction in student intake” which was held as “a national waste and requires to be redressed appropriately.” It was further reiterated by the Court that clubbing merited candidates with reserved category candidates by lowering the minimum acceptable marks from 55% to 50% for all is “not healthy.” The Court suggested that both UGC and JNU should workout some criteria to allow concession to SC/ST, OBC and PWD (person with disabilities) candidates. This ruling may not only have an impact on the future of reserved category students but also on the general category students as well. More students aspiring for higher education from prestigious institutions such as JNU will now get the opportunity of a fair, free and impartial examination system. The admission criteria being student-friendly will help retain the brilliant students of our country who are the future of our democracy.

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