In the Supreme Court of India
|NAME OF THE CASE||ST. STEPHEN’S COLLEGE V. UNIVERSITY OF DELHI|
|CITATION||Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1868 0f 1980|
|DATE OF THE JUDGEMENT||December 6, 1991|
|APELLATE||St. Stephen’s College|
|RESPONDENT||University of Delhi|
|BENCH/ JUDGE||M. H. Kania, K. Jagannatha Shetty, N.M. Kasliwal, M. Fathima Beevi, Yogeshwar Dayal|
|STATUTES/CONSTITUTION INVOLVED||Constitution of India; Delhi University Act, 1992;|
|IMPORTANT SECTIONS INVOLVED||Constitution of India: Articles 14,29(2), 30, 30(1), 32, 133(1)(a) and 226 Delhi University Act, 1922: Sections 2(a), 4,6,7, 23, 30|
The most awaited judgement as it called into a question which had never arisen in the Court, the writ petition is filed by the St. Stephens’s College and the University of Delhi. The bone of contention is the admission procedure and the protection of minorities and their educational institutions. The college authorities provided admission to the reserved candidates of their community and the university was dissatisfied with this act as it did lay down specific guidelines to be followed in this regard. The apex court took the matter into its hand.
“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.”- Lord Acton
Minority rights in layman’s language can be said to be an implication of individual rights or that involve two legal provisions “first, they are intended to recognize or accommodate the distinctive needs of non-dominant ethnic or racial groups; and second, they do so by adopting minority-specific measures, above and beyond the non-discriminatory enforcement of universal individual rights that apply regardless of group membership.”
India is a diverse country with people belonging to different cultures sharing the land and affectionate towards each other. The minority includes 2.5 percent of Christians, 2 percent of Sikhs, 1 percent of Jains and 12 percent of Muslims with Hindus dominating the population. Five communities have been recognized as minority communities: Muslims, Christians, Sikhism Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
The Advisory Committee of the Constituent Assembly recommended that minorities’ language, culture and script should be protected; no minority should face any form of discrimination; they can establish their educational institutions and states should not discriminate while providing funds to the institutions. These recommendations were drafted as Article 23. The drafting committee itself was committed to making distinct rights for the minorities and other citizens.
Dr. Ambedkar explained that the term minority is ‘not merely to indicate the minorities in the technical sense of the word, it was also used to cover minorities which are not minorities in the technical sense, but which are nonetheless minorities in the cultural and linguistic sense.’
Hence, Article 29(1) provides every section of the citizens to conserve their language, script or culture if they have any, and Article 30(1) that gives minorities a right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
Article 30(2) points out that the States should not discriminate on any ground while assisting with aid.
Another initiative taken by the Indian Government is the celebration of Minority Rights Day on December 18 to promote the rights of the minority groups.
FACTS OF THE CASE
One of the oldest colleges in Delhi, St. Stephens College is affiliated to the University of Delhi and it admits students to pursue their careers in B.A./B.Sc. (H), B.A. (Pass) and B. Sc. General, M.A. and M. Sc. The college authorities published the “Admission Prospectus” for the academic year 1980- 81on May 25, 1980, which mentioned that the deadline for receiving the application of admissions to the college would be June 20, 1980, and, before the selection of students, there would be an interview. The Vice Chancellor of the Delhi University convened a meeting (Advisory Committee) on May 25, 1980, using his emergency powers and made certain guidelines that “(i) Admission to B.A. (Pass)/B.A. Vocational Studies Courses be based on the merit of the percentage of marks secured by students in qualifying examination
(ii) The admission to B.Com. (Pass) B.A. (Hons.) and B.Com. (Hons.) Courses be also on the basis of marks. However, the College may give weightage to marks obtained in one or more individual subjects in addition to the aggregate marks of the qualifying examination. But whenever weightage is proposed to be given to individual subject (s) by the College, it should be notified in advance to the students through the college Prospectus/Notice Board so that applicants seeking admission know in advance the basis of admission
(iii) That last date for receipt of applications to all the undergraduate courses will be June 30, 1980 and this would be uniformly adhered to by all the Colleges.”
Thereafter, on June 5, 1980, the university informed all affiliated colleges to put June 30, 1980 as the last date for submission of applications. Another circular was sent to all the affiliated colleges on June 9, 1981, “that admission to B.A. (Pass)/ B.A. Vocational study courses be based on the merit of the percentage of marks secured by students in the qualifying examination. The admission to B. Com (Pass), B. A. (Hons) and B.Com. (Hons) courses shall be on the basis of marks. However, the college may give weightage to marks obtained in one or more individual subjects in addition to the aggregate marks of the qualifying examination. But whenever, weightage is proposed to be given to individual subjects (s) by the college, it should be notified in advance to the students through the College Prospectus/Notice Board so that applicants seeking admission know in advance the basis of admission. This circular also provides certain guidelines for admission to sportsmen and persons with other distinctions.”
Enraged with the different approach toward admission, the Delhi University Students Union complained about the college that was swaying away from the directions given by the University as it has ordered its admission procedure and application deadline. After the complaint, various letters were exchanged between the University and the College regarding the behaviour of the college, the final letter indirectly stated the point that the college could not adhere to the guidelines of the University.
Upon witnessing the adamant behaviour of the college authorities, a student named Rahul Kapoor who was bidding for admission to the college moved to Delhi High Court under article 226 of the Constitution of India. The High Court issued orders to the college to put up June 30, 1980, as the deadline for submission of applications and also stop publication of the admission list till the writ is disposed of. Dissatisfied with the High Court’s verdict, Stephen’s College approached the apex court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The court stayed the operation of the circulars issued by the University of Delhi. The Delhi University Students Union on the other hand, also approached the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution to issue directions to St. Stephens College to follow all the University’s policies. The Allahabad Agricultural Institute also imparted admission by giving preference to the Christian students for admission, the students who were denied admission to this institute moved to the Allahabad High Court under Article 226 0f the Indian Constitution and the court ruled in favour of the students, aggrieved by this decision, the institute moved to the Supreme Court. Thus, the case was laid before the court for the ultimate decision.
ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT
- Can St. Stephen’s College be referred to as a minority institution?
- If we consider St. Stephen’s College as a minority institution, can it be bound by the directions of the University of Delhi that the college has to admit students based on merit of the percentage of marks obtained by the students in the qualifying examination?
- Can preference be given to reserve seats for the students belonging to the St. Stephen’s College and Allahabad Agricultural Institute community?
ARGUMENTS RAISED BY THE PETITIONER
- The learned counsel contended that St. Stephen’s College is a religious minority institution as it is a constituent college but not a maintained college.
- The counsel further held that it was not a novice procedure that was followed by the college and it has been from the beginning exercising its managerial powers of setting its deadline for the applications and interviewing the students.
- Further, it was contended that they receive approximately 6000 applications for the available 300 seats from all every corner of the country and it becomes extremely difficult to process those applications in a day.
- The learned counsel further argued that conductance of interviews has been an integral part of the administration and selection of students on merely the marks obtained by the students would be violative of the fundamental right of the college under Article 30 of the Constitution.
- Hence, the counsel appealed to the court that the University’s circulations are void prima facie given the College’s minority status.
ARGUMENTS RAISED BY THE RESPONDENT
- The learned counsel on behalf of the respondents had justified its act of issuing the circulars as they referred to the Delhi University Act, the Ordinance II and other relevant statutes of the University (statute 30 that every college has to abide by the rules, regulations and ordinances of the University.
- The counsel also referred to Ordinance XVIII which mentions every college to constitute a Staff Council with the Principal as the ex-officio chairman while one of the functions of the council is to make any recommendation on the formulation of admission policy and thus the college could not lay down its criteria and procedure, contrary to that of the University.
- It was also contended that the College was established by the foreign Mission from Cambridge and does not have an Indian genesis, hence it has no protection under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
- Another contention by the counsel was that St. Stephen’s college like any other college receives maintenance from the University Grants Commission. Therefore, the College cannot discriminate based on religion or language.
- The counsel argued that the circulars given by the University in no way violate any fundamental rights of the College and thus,
- The counsel appealed to the court that the College should be given directions to follow the guidelines issued by the University.
CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
- ARTICLE 14:
“Equality before law The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”
- ARTICLE 29(2):
“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”
- ARTICLE 30:
Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions
- “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice
(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause
- The state shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language”
- ARTICLE 32:
Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part
- The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
- The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part
- Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clause (1) and (2), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause (2)
- The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution
- ARTICLE 133(1)(a):
“Appellate jurisdiction of Supreme Court in appeals from High Courts in regard to civil matters
- An appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court from any judgment, decree or final order in a civil proceeding of a High Court in the territory of India if the High Court certifies under Article 134A
- that the case involves a substantial question of law of general importance; and”
- ARTICLE 226:
Power of High Courts to issue certain writs
- Notwithstanding anything in Article 32 every High Court shall have powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories’ directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose
- The power conferred by clause (1) to issue directions, orders or writs to any Government, authority or person may also be exercised by any High Court exercising jurisdiction in relation to the territories within which the cause of action, wholly or in part, arises for the exercise of such power, notwithstanding that the seat of such Government or authority or the residence of such person is not within those territories
- Where any party against whom an interim order, whether by way of injunction or stay or in any other manner, is made on, or in any proceedings relating to, a petition under clause (1), without
(a) furnishing to such party copies of such petition and all documents in support of the plea for such interim order; and
(b) giving such party an opportunity of being heard, makes an application to the High Court for the vacation of such order and furnishes a copy of such application to the party in whose favour such order has been made or the counsel of such party, the High Court shall dispose of the application within a period of two weeks from the date on which it is received or from the date on which the copy of such application is so furnished, whichever is later, or where the High Court is closed on the last day of that period, before the expiry of the next day afterwards on which the High Court is open; and if the application is not so disposed of, the interim order shall, on the expiry of that period, or, as the case may be, the expiry of the aid next day, stand vacated
4. The power conferred on a High Court by this article shall not be in derogation of the power conferred on the Supreme court by clause (2) of Article 32
DELHI UNIVERSITY ACT, 1922:
- SECTION 2(a):
“In this Act and in the Statutes, unless there is anything repugnant in the subject or context, — 3 [(a) “College” means an institution maintained or admitted to its privileges by the University, and includes an Affiliated College and a Constituent College;”
- SECTION 4: “The University shall have the following powers, namely: —
(1) to provide for instruction in such branches of learning as the University may think fit, and to make provision for research and for the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. (2) to hold examinations and to grant to, and confer degrees and other academic distinctions on, persons who— (a) have pursued a course of study in the University or in any College, or (b) are non-collegiate women students residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the University, or
(c) are teachers in educational institutions under conditions laid down in the Statutes and Ordinances and have passed the examinations of the University under like conditions,
(d) have pursued a course of study by correspondence, whether residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the University or not,
(e) have been registered by the University, subject to such conditions as may be laid down in the Statutes and Ordinances, as external candidates, being persons residing within the territorial limits to which the powers of the University extend.
(3) to confer honorary degrees or other distinctions on approved persons in the manner laid down in the Statutes,
(4) to grant such diplomas to, and to provide such lectures and instruction for, persons not being members of the University, as the University may determine,
(5) to co-operate with other Universities and authorities in such manner and for such purposes as the University may determine,
(6) to institute Professorships, Readerships, Lectureships and any other teaching posts required by the University,
(7) to appoint or recognise persons as Professors, Readers or Lecturers, or otherwise as teachers of the University, (8) to institute and award Fellowships, Scholarships, Exhibitions and Prizes 4 ***
(9) to maintain Colleges and Halls, to admit to its privileges Colleges not maintained by the University and to withdraw all or any of those privileges, and to recognize Halls not maintained by the University and to withdraw any such recognition, (9A) to declare, with the consent of the colleges concerned, in the manner specified by the Academic Council, colleges conducting courses of study in the Faculties of Medicine, Technology, Music or Fine Arts, as autonomous colleges: Provided that the extent of the autonomy which each such college may have, and the matters in relation to which it may exercise such autonomy, shall be such as may be prescribed by the Statutes; (9B) to set up one or more College Administrative Councils for two or more colleges with such composition, powers and functions as may be laid down in the Statutes.
(10) to demand and receive payment of such fees and other charges as may be authorized by the Ordinances,
(11) to supervise and control the residence and discipline of students of the University, and to make arrangements for promoting their health and general welfare, (11A) to make grants from the funds of the University for assistance to forms of extramural teaching,
(12) to make special arrangements in respect of the residence, discipline and teaching of women students, (12A) to acquire, hold, manage and dispose of property movable or immovable, including trust or endowed property, for the purposes of the University, (12B) with the approval Of the Central Government, to borrow, on the security of University property, money for the purposes of the University, (12C) to create administrative and ministerial and other necessary posts and to make appointments thereto, and
(13) to do all such other acts and things, whether incidental to the powers aforesaid or not, as may be requisite in order to further the objects of the University as a teaching and examining body, and to cultivate and promote arts, science and other branches of learning.”
- SECTION 6:
“The University shall be open to all persons of either sex and of whatever race, creed, caste or class], and it shall not be lawful for the University to adopt or impose on any person any test whatsoever of religious belief or profession in order to entitle him to be admitted thereto as a teacher or student, or to hold any office therein, or to graduate thereat, or to enjoy or exercise any privilege thereof, except in respect of any particular benefaction accepted by the University, where such test is made a condition thereof by any testamentary or other instrument creating such benefaction: Provided that nothing in this section shall be deemed to prevent religious instruction being given in the manner prescribed by the Ordinances to those [who have consented to receive it]”
- SECTION 7:
“(1) All recognized teaching in connection with the University courses shall be conducted under the control of the Academic Council by teachers of the University, and shall include lecturing, laboratory work and other teaching conducted in accordance with any syllabus prescribed by the Regulations. (3) The authorities responsible for organizing such teaching shall be prescribed by the Statutes. (4) The courses and curricula shall be prescribed by the Ordinances and, subject thereto, by the Regulations.”
- SECTION 23:
“The Academic Council. — The Academic Council shall be the academic body of the University, and shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, the Statutes and the Ordinances, have the control and general regulation, and be responsible for the maintenance, of standards of instruction, education and examination within the University, and shall exercise such other powers and perform such other duties as may be conferred or imposed upon it by the Statutes. It shall have the right to advise the Executive Council on all academic matters. The constitution of the Academic Council and the term of office of its members, other than ex officio members, shall be prescribed by the Statutes”
- SECTION 30:
Subject to the provisions of this Act and the Statutes, the Ordinances may provide for all or any of the following matters, namely:— (a) the admission of students to the University and their enrolment as such; (b) the courses of study to be laid down for all degrees, diplomas and certificates of the University; (c) the degrees, diplomas, certificates and other academic distinctions to be awarded by the University, the qualifications for the same, and the means to be taken relating to the granting and obtaining of the same; (d) the fees to be charged for courses of study in the University and for admission to the examinations, degrees and diplomas of the University; (e) the conditions of the award of fellowships, scholarships, studentships, exhibitions, medals and prizes; (f) the conduct of examinations, including the terms of office and manner of appointment and the duties of examining bodies, examiners and moderators; (g) the maintenance of discipline among the students of the University; (h) the conditions of residence of students at the University; (i) the special arrangements, if any, which may be made for the residence, discipline and teaching of women students, and the prescribing for them of special courses of study; (j) the giving of religious instruction; (k) the emoluments and the terms and conditions of service of teachers of the University; (l) the management of colleges and other institutions founded or maintained by the University; (m) the supervision and inspection of colleges and other institutions admitted to privileges of the University; and (n) all other matters which by this Act or the Statutes are to be or may be provided for by the Ordinances.”
The verdict was given by a five-judge bench, the honourable court referred to various previous judgements before reaching a conclusion that called for a similar problem. In State of Bombay V. Bombay Education Society, the Bernes High School at Deolali in Nasik, Bombay was given recognition as belonging to the Anglo- Indian community with its mother tongue as English, and thus the court accepted that it was a “linguistic minority institution” entitled to protection under Article 30(1) of the Constitution. Another case referred to was D.A.V. College, Jullundur V. State of Punjab, D.A.V. college was a college formed by the Arya Samaj in Punjab and that it also claimed protection under Article 29(1) and 30(1) of the Indian Constitution, the court herein stated that for gaining privilege under Article 30(1), “one must at least have a separate spoken language, but it is not necessary that that language should also have a distinct script of its own.” The Arya Samaj has its script in Devnagri invoked Article 29(1) and is also entitled to Article 30(1) because of their religious minority in the State of Punjab.
In A.P. Christian Medical Educational Society V. Government of U.P., a medical college was set up by a registered society named Christian minorities educational institution, it claimed protection under article 30 (1). However, the state government refused to grant permission The matter came to the court and it was and it was held that the university, the government, and the “court have the undoubted right to pierce the ‘minority veil’ and discover whether there is lurking behind it no minority at all and in any case no minority institution. The minority institutions must be educational institutions of the minorities in truth and reality and not mere masked phantoms. It was emphasised that what is important and what is imperative is that there must exist some real positive index to enable the institution to be identified as an educational institution of the minorities.”
In S. Aziz Basha versus Union of India, the petitioners challenged the amendments made in the Aligarh Muslim university act, 1920 by the amendment act of 1951 and six 1965. The petitioners appealed that the management was deprived of the right to administer Aligarh Muslim University and it violates article 31 of the constitution. The court held that since there is no proof to justify that the Muslim university was formed as a result of the Muslim minority, there is no violation of any fundamental right.
After having referred to various cases on minorities and their rights for establishment and administration of educational institutions, the court held that “it should be borne in mind that the words ‘establish’ and ‘administer’ in article 31 add to be read conjunctively”, the institution has to have a proof of establishment of an institution to claim the rights for administering that institution. Article 30 of the Indian constitution mentions that minority means those who formed a distinct and identifiable group of citizens of India, the court again emphasized in the AP Christian educational society case that “there must exist some positive index to enable the educational institution to be identified with religious or linguistic minorities.”
The court took a glance at the history of the college, the building and the constitution of the college. The constitution of the college consists of the memorandum of the society and rules. The court also threw light on the appointment of the Principal of St. Stephens college and all other colleges: the Principal of Stephen’s college is appointed by the Supreme Council and he must be a Christian belonging to the Church of North India while the principals of the other affiliated colleges were appointed under ordinance XVIII clause 7(2).
After considering the various clauses and ordinances of the Delhi University Act, the court held that St. Stevens college is a minority and that there is no provision in the act with overriding powers that precludes the management of the college, the college is an autonomous institution and can elect their Principal that contributes largely to state the minority character of the institution. Further, the University of Delhi has also not objected to the provisions of the constitution of the college and that no point denied or admitted the minority character of the college. Thus send Stevens college can be considered a minority institution.
In Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society V. State of Gujarat, it was held that the minority- run institution should abide by the regulations and educational standards: “That the ultimate goal of a minority institution too imparting general secular education is advancement of learning. This Court has consistently held that it is not only permissible but also desirable to regulate everything in educational and academic matters for achieving excellence and uniformity in standards of education.”
In Lily Kurian V. Sr. Lewina, it was stated that: “Protection of the minorities is an article of faith in the Constitution of India. The right to administration of institutions of minority’s choice enshrined in Article 30(1) means “management of the affairs” of the institution. This right is, however subject to the regulatory power of the State. Article 30(1) is not a charter for maladministration; regulation, so that the right to administer may be better exercised for the benefit of the institution, is not permissible; but the moment one goes beyond that and imposes, what is the truth, not a mere regulation but an impairment of the right to administer, the article comes into play and the interference cannot be justified by pleading the interests of the general public; the interest justifying interference can only be the interests of the minority concerned.”
The court also recognized that the interview can be seen as a supplementary test to evaluate the suitability of the candidates for college admission but minimal weightage should be given to the interview test marks and that there should be no arbitration. Thus, the court held that it saw nothing which makes the interview test contrary to the aforementioned principles of the Court. The court took reference to another case where one University’s results cannot be used to compare with other universities’ examinations because the method of teaching, examining and evaluating answer sheets differ from university to university. Hence the court recognized the method used by the college administration for the selection of students and found that nothing runs contrary to the principles and St. Stephens College could not be bound by the circulars of the University of Delhi.
The court severely criticized the judgement given by the Allahabad High Court in the case of the Allahabad Agricultural Institute as it was driven by the Western political theory or the liberal individualist theory. The court emphasised the fact that articles 29(2) and 30(1) give preference and a right to admit their community candidates and set up their educational institutions but the court indicated a point through the Re, Kerela Education Bill that “the minorities cannot establish educational institutions only for the benefit of their community.” Article 30(1) that mentions the rights of the minorities should have a “reasonable relation between the aim and the means employed.” In the Sidhajbhai case, the court struck down the recognition offered when the government ordered to reserve 80 percent seats for government nominees and only 20 percent for the management with a menace that the grant-in-aid would be withheld. Thus, the court held that the minority- run institutions can give preference to their community candidates and that the minority institutions should have at least 50 percent of the annual admission and other community admissions should be done based on merit. The judgement was supported by the 4:1majority and the court dismissed the petition stating that the Allahabad High Court judgement stands modified but the directions given should not be disturbed and the candidates so admitted should be allowed to complete their courses.
The Constitution of India was articulated with a sole basis that serves the citizens of the country at its best; as has been stated by Chief Justice Marshall “We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding,” an instrument “framed for ages to come, and…. designed to approach immortality as nearly as human institution can approach.”
India is a country of a complex society with different cultures encompassing the region; the aim of incorporating Article 30(1) in the Constitution was not to treat the minorities in a religiously neutral way but rather to preserve the minorities’ language, culture and religion, the framers of the Constitution did frame it by moulding the various instances.
This case fostered the rights of the minorities and the institution set up them, and it can only interfere if there is a need for regulation of orders; it would have an independent existence. Roosevelt’s famous lines indicate much about the country and its Constitution: “No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of the minorities.”
 Author is 3rd semester of Amity Law School, Lucknow.
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 Lily Kurian V. Sr. Lewina, (1979) 2 SCC 124.
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