Writ petition filed by the government dismissed

The Madras High Court has dismissed a writ petition filed by the State government challenging the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) regulation prescribing a minimum of 40 per cent marks in the qualifying examinations for all reserved category students, including those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, for admission to engineering colleges.

Rejecting the contention that a mere pass mark of 35 per cent was enough for SC/ST students, Justice K. Chandru said: “It is rather unfortunate that the State of Tamil Nadu represented by its Additional Chief Secretary, Higher Education Department, should come up with a writ petition of this nature… It is not as if every child born in Tamil Nadu should become an engineer.”

He was “shocked” to hear arguments advanced by the State that thousands of seats in over 400 private engineering colleges in the State went vacant every year and, therefore, at least some of them could be filled by admitting the maximum number of SC/ST students whose education expenses were borne by the State.

“It is not clear as to whose interest is the State canvassing now,” the judge remarked and pointed out that the aim of the government was not to admit the underprivileged students in institutes such as Anna University, government engineering colleges or government-aided institutions where the competition was stiff and cut-off mark for admissions ranged between 95 and 97 per cent.

“On the other hand, the present drive is for gathering fodder for the private self-financing colleges where seats remain unfilled either due to lack of patronage or standards. None of the private colleges has approached this court… It is the State which has filed the present writ petition to prop up the self-financing engineering colleges.

“The move will neither serve public interest nor the interest of any section except serving the interests of the self-financing engineering colleges. By this process those colleges will fill seats at the State’s expense,” the judge said. Referring to statistics published in the media of poor academic performance by students in many private engineering colleges where the pass mark was 50 per cent, the judge said: “Therefore, if a student cannot obtain even 40 per cent marks (in the Plus-Two examinations), it is unthinkable as to how he or she will get an engineering degree by coping with much more difficult syllabus.

“It is no consolation to admit unqualified students to engineering colleges, thereby making their future uncertain and in this process spend considerable amounts of public funds... The present attempt by the State government to lower the standards will not only do harm to the academic excellence but also will make students, admitted with such marks, in not completing their course.”

Providing engineering admission to students who could not score even 40 per cent marks in their Plus-Two examinations, “will largely result in such students passing time in colleges at the expenses of the State and finally become dropouts with loads of arrears on their shoulders, thereby being neither useful to the society nor to the family which had supported their education all through”.

Expressing surprise over the social justice argument advanced by the State, the judge said the government, which was vociferously fighting for the need to accommodate the underprivileged in higher educational institutions, had actually washed its hands off by restricting its Constitutional obligation to provide education only up to eighth standard and not beyond.

“If the State is so concerned about students who have secured only 35 per cent marks, then it should appoint counsellors and guide such students to get admitted to other institutions, which suit their aptitude and eligibility, so that they can also become useful human resources for this country.”

Listing Supreme Court judgments that had warned against lowering the standards in order to fill vacant seats, the judge said the State government had no legal or Constitutional authority to challenge the regulation framed by the AICTE, a statutory body created for the purpose of setting standards and maintaining academic excellence in higher education.

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