Admission to Engineering Colleges Based on Marks of Qualifying Exam Against The Law: Supreme Court
Supreme Court in The State of Odisha V. Orissa Private Engineering College Association (OPECA) — Special Leave Petition (Civil) No 5014 of 2021. prohibited direct admissions to engineering courses based on marks obtained in qualifying examinations. The Court set aside the order of a Division Bench of the High Court of Orissa, which allowed admissions in relaxation of a statutory requirement that all admissions have to be based on a centralized entrance test and counselling process. The Apex Court however did not cancel the admissions of 835 students, which were completed according to the impugned court order.
Hon’ble Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud observed:
“that does not obviate the position that the State Government is duty bound to comply with the provisions of Section 3(1) which hold the field in the State of Odisha. In this backdrop, the High Court was not justified in issuing a mandamus to the State Government in the teeth of the provisions of the statute, more particularly Section 3(1).”
The Odisha Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fees) Act, 2007, hereinafter the Act, governs admissions of students. Under Section 3(1) of the Act, all admissions to private professional educational institutes are required to be made through Entrance Test(s) approved by the Government followed by centralized counselling in order of merit. Section 3(2) enables the government to formulate modalities to fill up vacant seats of the courses, if any. However, in the backdrop of the pandemic, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) issued a circular that relaxed the eligibility criteria prescribing marks scored by the aspirants in the qualifying examination as the basis for admissions towards admitting students to the vacant seats available for the PGDM/MBA courses.
The respondent had filed a petition in the Orissa High Court seeking extension of the scope of the AICTE relaxations to Engineering admissions as well. The court left it to the discretion of AICTE to decide if similar relaxations should be extended. AICTE issued a letter dated 06.01.2021, notifying that there was no need of issuing any general circular extending benefits. This position was communicated by the petitioner to the respondents, that relaxations only relate to PGDM/MBA course and not to B.Tech Engineering Courses.
The respondent challenged this communication, and the Division Bench of Orissa High Court held that the same benefit which was granted to students for the PGDM/MBA courses should be given to students of the Engineering Degree stream based on the AICTE circular.
Countering this decision, the petitioner contended that the decision of the High Court was in contravention of Section 3(1) of the Act. Further, the statutory authority AICTE had also clarified its position. The respondents raised the contention that due to pandemic, many of the seats lie vacant in engineering, and in the interest of students, the orders of the High Court should not be interfered with.
The Apex Court held that orders of the High Court were in express contravention with the Section 3(1) of the Act. The modalities were to be formulated by the State Government for vacant seats for which the AICTE had granted discretion. However, without any provisions formulated by statutory authority for admissions based on marks in the qualifying examinations, the orders passed allowing such admissions were on the misconception of law and were set aside.
The court also observed:
“The Court cannot be unmindful of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of students who actually could appear for the entrance examination is a small proportion of the total number of seats available in the State. To displace such a body of students who have already been admitted would not be in the interests of justice.”
In conclusion, under the jurisdiction of Article 142 of the Constitution, the court for the current year allowed the admission granted by the institutions to 592 students under direct entry and 243 students under lateral entry to the B. Tech degree courses. The order of the High Court was set aside.
Vaibhav Karadale | Research Intern | EduLegaL
Swapna Iyer | Legal Editor | EduLegaL