J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: Making it clear that not a single seat must remain vacant, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all Central educational institutions (CEIs) to fill the vacant seats in Other Backward Classes category from among the general category candidates by October 31.

A five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices Arijit Pasayat, C.K. Thakker, R.V. Raveendran and Dalveer Bhandari passed this order on an application filed by the former Chennai IIT Director, Professor P.V. Indiresan, seeking a direction that the 432 vacant seats in SC/ST/OBC categories in the IITs be filled by general category candidates.

The Centre, however, had already informed the Court that only 20 out of 654 seats meant for the OBCs in the 13 IITs remained vacant, of which 11 were in architecture/design course. Also only 47 seats meant for SC/STs remained vacant in the six new IITs because no preparatory course could be held.

The petitioner had said that according to the April 10 judgment in the OBC case, cut-off marks to the extent of 10 per cent could be reduced for reserved candidates but the CEIs had not acted on it.

The Bench clarified that cut-off marks for the OBC candidates, below the cut-off marks for the general category candidates, could be reduced to the extent of 10 per cent.

The CEIs should endeavour to fill the vacant OBC seats from other eligible students at the earliest by October 31 following inter-se merit and subject to the rules and regulations of the institution concerned.

Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the petitioner, questioned the Centre’s contention that vacant seats in the OBC quota would go to GC only after three years as the 27 per cent quota was staggered over a three-year period.

Mr. Justice Pasayat intervened and told Solicitor General G.E. Vahanvati “the very purpose of our [April 10] judgment would be frustrated if reserved seats are kept vacant. We don’t want the seats to lapse or be carried over to the next year.”

Mr. Justice Bhandari said “you [Centre] have created infrastructure and faculty. What is the point in allowing it to go waste by keeping the seats vacant?”

Mr. Vahanvati said there was no difficulty in implementation if an order was passed to that effect.

Mr. Venugopal also questioned the Union Cabinet’s decision to increase the income limit for creamy layer from Rs. 2.50 lakh to Rs. 4.50 lakh.

He said that by this only the upper classes among the OBCs would benefit by the increase and not the poor.

He said the Supreme Court in 2007 had quashed a Kerala government order fixing the income limit of Rs. 3 lakh for creamy layer. While so the court could not permit the Centre to increase the limit to Rs. 4.50 lakh.

The Court asked counsel to file a proper application in this regard. It also issued notice to the Centre on another application to direct the Centre to increase the seats in CEIs only to the extent of 27 per cent in the total number of seats and not 54 per cent as contemplated in the notification of July 3, 2008.