The Delhi High Court has directed St. Stephens College to follow the admission policy formulated by the University of Delhi and accord 100 percent weightage to the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) score while granting admission to non-minority candidates in its undergraduate programs.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad observed that the fundamental right under Article 30(1) of the Constitution cannot be extended to non-minority members.

Further, the Court also held, "Article 30(1) is not absolute and the State has the right to formulate regulations concerning the administration of a minority institution to the extent that it is for the furtherance of the interest of the minority community and is in a bid to prevent maladministration of the minority institution. Aided minority educational institutions that are affiliated with a University must follow the norms and procedure of the said University."

While holding that the minority institution can sub-classify reservation, the Court held that the protection under Article 30(1) of the Constitution can be extended to the extent it allows a minority institution to sub-classify the reservation accorded to the minority community.

Furthermore, the Court set aside the communication dated May 9, 2022, issued by the Delhi University – Respondent No. 1 to the extent it mandated a single merit list for admission of candidates belonging to the Christian community regardless of any denominations/sub-sects/sub-categories within the Christian community.

The Court also directed the Petitioner – College to follow the admission policies for the year 2022-23 as formulated by the Delhi University and further that the College must withdraw its Admission prospectus and issue a Public Notice declaring the amended admission procedure.

The Petitioner Kanika Poddar a law student was represented by Senior Advocate Arun Bhardwaj along with Advocate Akash Vajpai, while Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal appeared for St. Stephens College, and ASG Chetan Sharma along with ASG Vikramjit Banerjee appeared for the University of Delhi before the High Court.

  • The issues that were dealt with by the Court were –

i) Whether the right to administer under Article 30(1) accorded to a minority-run aided educational institution extends to its non-minority students?

ii) Whether the admission policies of Respondent No.1, i.e. the University of Delhi, pertaining to the matter at hand, would be applicable to the Petitioner-College, being a minority institution?

iii) Whether a minority-run institution under Article 30 has the right to sub-classify the reservation accorded to the minority category?

  • First Issue

At the outset, the Court referred to Article 29 and Article 30 of the Constitution while discussing the importance of Education as a medium to provoke thought and expression in people.

*Article 29 – Protection of interests of minorities

*Article 30 - Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions

The Court observed that 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.

While referring to Kerala Education Bill, 1959 SCR 995, the Court noted the interpretation of the term 'minority' as deliberated upon by the Supreme Court and the interplay between Articles 29(2) and 30(1) as well as the extent of interference by the State in the administration of minority-run institution, the Apex Court had noted –

The right to administer would not include the right to maladminister, and that the State would possess the authority to prescribe reasonable regulations to ensure the excellence of the institutions to be aided.

Further, reliance was also placed upon Ahmedabad St. Xavier's College Society and Anr. v. State of Gujarat where the Apex Court had considered the question as to whether minorities based on religion or language have the right to establish and administer educational institutions for imparting general secular education within the meaning of Article 30.

The Court then placed reliance on St. Stephen's College v. University of Delhi where the Supreme Court deliberated upon the minority character of the Petitioner-College as well as whether the academic policies regulating the right of the Petitioner-College to conduct an interview would hold water in the face of Article 30(1). The Court had held that, in the absence of any uniform assessment standard, the institution was well within its right to conduct an interview and that the circulars of Respondent No.1 divesting the Petitioner-College of this right would not be applicable. However, even while holding in favour of the Petitioner-College, the Supreme Court observed that the State possessed the right to regulate the standards of excellence expected of educational institutions, and that such institutions cannot decline to follow the general pattern of education under the guise of exclusive right of management.

Additionally, reliance was placed on P.A. Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra, wherein the Apex Court had held that merely because Article 30(1) has been enacted, minority educational institutions would not become immune from the operation of regulatory measures.

The Bench further placed reliance on a Supreme Court judgment wherein it was held that if a system was devised to compute equivalence between different kinds of qualifications, for instance, a common entrance test, it would not be in violation of the rights conferred under Article 30(1).

Thus, the Bench noted that the Article 30(1) though absolute is subject to reasonable restrictions by the State. In this context, the Court observed –

"However, such regulations cannot be proposed to be for the betterment of society at large or in the interest of the State, and must first and foremost be for the purposes of ensuring that the standards of excellence of the minority institution are maintained and that the interests of the minority community are advanced. Furthermore, the degree of interference that can be exercised by the State depends on the basic foundation of an institution."

The Court further held, "When observed through the prism of constitutional intent, it becomes clear that the right of a minority institution to administer, i.e. manage the affairs of the institution and other allied matters, is for the purpose of ensuring that the minority community is relegated to a position that places it at par with the majority community."

The Court concurred with the submissions of ASGs and Senior Advocate Arun Bhardwaj that when the object of the Petitioner-College is to impart religious instruction the same cannot be enforced upon the non-minority community. If such religious instruction cannot be imposed upon the non-minority community, despite the same being a tangent of the right to administer of the Petitioner-College, it can be inferred that the non-minority community would not be subject to other instructions that are imparted by the minority institution for the betterment of the minority community.

Thus, the Bench observed, "Consequently, this 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% weightage for the purposes of admitting students does not extend to non-minority students, and solely pertains to its minority students."

  • 2nd Issue

While dealing with the second issue, the Court held –

"Even though there exist limitations to the regulations of the State when it comes to interfering in the admission process instituted by the Petitioner-College under its fundamental right as per Article 30(1) for the minority community, it emerges before this Court that the Respondent No.1 is well within its right to formulate policies regulating the right of the Petitioner-College, which is an aided educational institution, to admit students if it is of the opinion that the admission policies of the Petitioner-College may potentially lead to maladministration and lower the standard of excellence of the institution. Accordingly, the policies of Respondent No.1 that is under consideration in the instant matter do not traverse beyond reasonability and do not impinge upon the rights of the Petitioner-College under Article 30(1)."

  • 3rd Issue

The Court disagreed with the contention of the ASG that a single merit list for the candidates belonging to the Christian community, regardless of any denominations/sub-sects/sub-categories within the Christian minority community must be given.

The Bench held that 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) and disposed of the Petitions.

Earlier, the University of Delhi had issued its admission policy for the academic year 2022-23 wherein it had mentioned that admission to the unreserved seats in its minority colleges like St.Stephens will be done only on the basis of marks obtained in Common University Entrance Test(CUET) while on reserved seats minority colleges can give 15% weightage to the interview and 85% weightage to the CUET score at the time of admission.

However, St. Stephens announced that it will give 15% weightage to interview and 85% weightage to CUET Marks even for admission to its unreserved seats for undergraduate courses.

The High Court had in June issued notice to St. Stephen's College in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed challenging the admission process followed by the College for its unreserved seats.

Cause Title - St. Stephens College v. University of Delhi & Anr.

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