HC bars State from lowering the mark

From the coming academic year, SC/ST students in Tamil Nadu will have to secure a minimum of 40 per cent marks to qualify for joining undergraduate courses in technical education. The Madras High Court has ruled that the State government is barred from fixing a lower eligibility mark than the one prescribed by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

The First Bench, in its order of Wednesday, declined to give a direction to lower the minimum eligibility criteria from 40 per cent as fixed by the AICTE to 35 per cent as prescribed by the State government for SC/ST candidates.

In its judgment on a writ appeal and a writ petition, the Bench, comprising Acting Chief Justice R.K. Agrawal and Justice N. Paul Vasanthakumar, made it clear that by an order on August 22 last year, the court had given an interim direction that status quo be maintained. Students belonging to SC/SC(A)/ST who had obtained 35 per cent marks, but less than 40 per cent marks in the 10+2 examinations, got admission to the engineering colleges in the State. They were pursuing their studies at present. “Hence, all such admissions made during the years 2011-12 and 2012-13 in respect of SC/SC(A)/ST candidates shall not be disturbed, and they shall be allowed to pursue their course.”

The Acting Chief Justice observed that so far as the issue that many seats had remained vacant in engineering colleges in the State on account of the prescribed 40 per cent eligibility criteria for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Caste-Arunthathiyar/ Scheduled Tribe was concerned, even before the AICTE had prescribed 40 per cent as the minimum eligibility criterion, seats in the engineering colleges relating to such categories remained vacant. In fact, for 2011-12 when for the first time the AICTE prescribed the eligibility criterion of 40 per cent for the reserved categories, the number of vacant seats in respect of the categories fell to 17,469 from 18,372 seats during the previous year.

Originally, the state government filed the appeal against a single Judge’s order of July last year dismissing a writ petition. The Judge had held that the State had no legal or constitutional authority to challenge the AICTE regulations.

The Government of Tamil Nadu, Department of Technical Education SC/ST Employees Welfare Association filed a writ petition seeking to quash the AICTE’s notification of July 4, 2011, stipulating 40 per cent minimum marks for the reserved categories.

The State government submitted that the requirement of a higher percentage of marks would put the socially backward students belonging to SC/SC (A)/ST to serious disadvantage in getting admission to engineering courses.

The Bench said from Supreme Court decisions, the principles which emerged included that the State could not prescribe minimum eligibility criteria lower than what had been prescribed by AICTE. However, it could prescribe higher eligibility criteria. If the State fixed a higher minimum eligibility criteria than that fixed by the AICTE, admissions to technical courses should be made only on the basis of the State-fixed eligibility criteria, even though seats meant for the reserved category remained unfilled.

Applying the Supreme Court principles to the facts of the present case, the Bench said the State government could not have prescribed a lower eligibility criterion in respect of reserved category candidates, i.e 35 per cent instead of 40 per cent prescribed by AICTE. It could have, at the best, only prescribed equal or a higher than the minimum marks fixed by AICTE, the Bench said and dismissed the writ appeal and the petition.

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