Says UGC has not acted in ‘arbitrary and illegal’ manner

The Supreme Court, on Thursday, upheld the policy of the University Grants Commission (UGC) for fixing eligibility criteria for candidates to qualify in the National Eligibility Test (NET), saying it is not “arbitrary and illegal.”

The Bench was hearing a petition of the UGC, challenging a Bombay High Court order setting aside the eligibility criteria fixed by the UGC after holding NET in June 2012. A single-judge Bench of the Kerala High Court and a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court set aside the criteria.

A Bench, headed by Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, said courts shall not interfere in matters of education unless there was a violation of statutory provisions, and the UGC could lay down any qualifying criteria.

In March 2012, the UGC had called for applications for NET and, in its notification, prescribed the minimum marks for the general category as 40 per cent, 40 per cent and 50 per cent in papers 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Candidates belonging to the Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were given a relaxation of five per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

Clause added

After the test, the UGC had added a clause prescribing 65 per cent aggregate marks in all three subjects for general candidates, 60 per cent for those belonging to Other Backward Classes and 55 per cent for candidates from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as the final qualifying criteria.

Candidates challenged the clause before the Kerala High Court and the Bombay High Court.

“We are of the view that in academic matters, unless there is a clear violation of statutory provisions, regulations or the notification issued, the courts shall keep their hands off since those issues fall within the domain of experts. The UGC, as an expert body, has been entrusted with the duty to take steps as it may think fit for the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in the university. For attaining the said standards, it is open to the UGC to lay down any qualifying criteria which has a rational nexus to the object to be achieved...,” the Supreme Court Bench said.

“The UGC has only implemented the opinion of experts by laying down the qualifying criteria which cannot be considered as arbitrary, illegal or discriminatory or violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.”

The Supreme Court, while upholding the UGC’s decision, said: “Prescribing the (final) qualifying criteria, in our view, does not amount to a change in the rule of the game as it was already premeditated in the notification. We are not inclined to say that the UGC has acted arbitrarily or whimsically against the candidates.”

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