Shimla: For maintaining ‘equity and excellence in academic institutions’ the Himachal Pradesh High Court today rubbished a bunch of petitions that had sought dilution in admission criteria so as to fill up vacant seats in technical courses.
Challenging a government diktat of imposing a common merit based process for admissions, H-Private Universities Management Associations (H-PUMA) and Private Technical Institutions Association HP had petitioned the court that it amounted to unreasonable interference in their right to administer their institutions.
The private institutions had contended that because of the states regulatory process, seats in their respective colleges were lying vacant due to non-availability of students.
They had pointed out that number of sanctioned B Tech seats in government institutions in Himachal was 660 (120 in HPU and 540 in other Govt institutions) and in private institutions there were 7680 in private engineering colleges and another 7820 in private universities.
Admissions made for B Tech courses in private colleges of Himachal during 2012-13 through Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) was 1049, in 2013-14 it was 429 and in 2014-15 less than 500 students had registered for admissions with HP Technical University, which included both for government as well as private institutions.
The private institutions had made out their case that they “cannot be asked to perform the impossible and, therefore, should be permitted to devise a merit based process rather than permitting the state to impose its determination of merit.”
Not convinced by the argument, the division bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan observed, “equity and excellence in academic institutions have to be maintained and what better way can it be maintained than by ensuring that each students competes in the same examination i.e. Combined Entrance Test (CET) so as to ensure that in terms of the access to education (equity) and merit of students (excellence) a common platform is that for admissions into professional colleges.
Writing for the bench Justice Chauhan noted “It is not disputed that the CET prescribes a fair equitable standard for judging the merit of the students.”
But to the moot question, whether CET violates the freedom of institutions under Article 19 (1) (g) or whether such regulatory control is permissible, the judges observed “it can safely be concluded that in a right to establish an institution, inherent is the right to administer the same which is protected as part of the freedom of occupation under Article 19 (1) (g).
The court observed that “it has to be remembered that this right is not a business or a trade, given solely for the profit making since the establishment of educational institutions bears a clear charitable purpose.
Before upholding the states regulatory rights the judges recorded that to some degree it did effect autonomy of private institutions but it was not a violation of the freedom granted under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.
Ensuring that admissions policies are based on merit, it is crucial for the state to act as a regulator, the judge observed.
The judges also pointed out that the petitioners had even conceded that they had established institutions to ensure good quality education and would not permit the standard of excellence to fall below the standard as may be prescribed by the State Government.
Before dismissing the petitions, the court noted, “it must be taken to be equally settled that the State’s authority cannot obliterate or unduly compromise these institutions’ autonomy.”
Settling the contentious issue the court observed, “In fact it is in matters of ensuring academic standards that the balance necessarily tilts in favour of the State taking into consideration the public interest and the responsibility of the State to ensure the maintenance of higher standards of education.
The State has power to regulate academic excellence particularly in matters of admissions to the institutions and, therefore, is competent to prescribe merit based admission processes for creating uniform admission process through CET.
Any prayer for seeking dilution or even questioning the authority of the State to act as an regulator is totally ill-founded in view of the various judicial pronouncements.
It is declared that the impugned measures providing for admission to various courses on the basis of Combined Entrance Test (CET) as imposed by the respondents are reasonable and pass the test under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution of India, observed the bench.
Accordingly, the present petitions lack merit and are dismissed, so also the pending applications, leaving the parties to bear their own costs, the judges decreed.