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Ajay Hasia V. Khalid Mujib Seheravardi & Ors.

7 min read

 

Court: Supreme Court of India

Citation(s): 1981 AIR 487, 1981 SCR (2) 79, 1981 SCC (1) 722

Case Type: Writ Petition (Civil)

Date of Judgement: 13/11/1980

Petitioner: Ajay Hasia ETC.

Respondent: Khalid Mujib Seheravardi & ORS. ETC.

Bench:

  • Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud,
  • Justice P.N. Bhagwati,
  • Justice V.R. Krishnaiyer,
  • Justice Syed Murtaza Fazalali,
  • Justice A.D. Koshal.

Statutes Referred:

  • Jammu and Kashmir Registration of Societies Act 1898
  • Constitution of India

Cases Referred:

  • E.P. Rayappa V. State of Tamil Nadu 1974 2 S.C.R. 348.
  • Maneka Gandhi V. Union of India 1978 2 S.R. 621.
  • R.D. Shetty V. International Airport Authority of India & Ors 1979 1 S.C.R. 1042.
  • Periakaruppan V. State of Tamil Nadu 1971 2 S.C.R. 430.
  • Miss Nishi Meghu V. State of Jammu and Kashmir & Ors. 3 S.C.R. p. 1253.

Facts:

  • The Regional Engineering College, Srinagar (the College) was one of the 15 engineering colleges in India sponsored by the Government of India.
  • The College was established, and its administration and management were carried on by a Society registered under the Jammu and Kashmir Registration of Societies Act, 1898.
  • Pursuant to clause (iv) of Rule 15 of the Rules of the College, the procedure for admission to various courses were laid down by a resolution dated 4th June 1974
  • Admissions to the student of Jammu and Kashmir were to be given on the basis of comparative merit to be determined by a written entrance examination and a viva examination, with marks allotted to each written test in English, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics were 100, and 50 marks were allotted in the viva exams in the following four factors: General knowledge and awareness- 15, Broad understanding of specific phenomenon- 15, Extra-curricular activities-10, General personality trait- 10.
  • The admission process in the College was decided in this manner until the academic year 1979-1980, when the process was slightly changed. Out of 250 seats, 50% seats were reserved for candidates belonging to Jammu and Kashmir, with 2 seats being reserved for children of permanent college employees, 50% seats were allotted to students from different states, including 15 seats reserved for students of special categories.
  • In the seats reserved for students from states other than the state of Jammu and Kashmir, certain reservations were made for students from Scheduled Case and Schedule Tribes, sons and wards of defence personnel killed or injured during their service.
  • The seats, both in the reserved category and in the open category, were to be filled up on the basis of comparative merit judged out of an aggregate of 150 marks (100 marks from written examination and 50 marks from viva test)
  • Around April 1979, the College issued a notice inviting applications for admission to various branches of engineering.
  • The petitioners applied for admission to the first semester of B.E. degree and appeared for entrance exams on the 16th and 17th of June 1979. After that, they were required to appear for the viva voce exams, and they were interviewed by a Committee.
  • When the admissions were announced, the petitioners found that though they had scored good marks in the written examinations, they had scored low in the viva voce exams.
  • As a result, they failed to secure admissions.
  • But candidates who had scored less than the petitioners in the written exams got admitted to the College because they scored higher in the viva voce exams.

Issue:

  • Did the College act arbitrarily while granting admissions and thus violate the equality clause of the Constitution?

Petitioner’s Contention:

  • The interviews for each of the petitioners did not last for more than 2 or 3 minutes. Only formal questions related to their percentage and place of residence were asked.
  • No questions related to the four factors- general knowledge, specific knowledge, extra-curricular activities, personality were asked.

Respondent’s Contention:

  • The society which runs the College is not a corporation created by a statute, but it is a society under the Jammu and Kashmir Societies Registration Act, 1898. It is therefore not an “Authority” under article 12 of the Constitution, and thus, writ petition cannot be maintained against the society.

Obiter Dicta:

  • All decisions related to the composition of board members, the allotment and use of money, rules and regulations of the society, the admission criteria, appointment and removal of board members, general functioning of the society, etc., are either directly or indirectly made by the State and Central governments. The composition of the society is dominated by the representatives of the Central Government and the state governments of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh with the approval of the Central Government. The State and the Central governments have to have deep and pervasive control over the respondent society. The respondent society is the instrumentality or agency of the State and Central Governments. It is, therefore, an “authority” and “State” within the meaning of article 12 of the Constitution of India and is subject to Constitutional obligations under article 14.
  • Article 14 aims at eradicating arbitrariness because any arbitrary action results in the negation of equality. The doctrine of classification is a judicial evolved by the courts to ensure that no legislative or executive action is arbitrary. Any classification must be based on two conditions- (1) Classification is founded on intelligible differentia.
  • (2) The said differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the classification.
  • Article 14 must not be identified with the doctrine of classification.
  • The process employed by the respondent Society cannot be determined as arbitrary simply because it chose to regulate admissions based on the marks attained in the entrance test and not take into account the score of the qualifying examination.
  • The oral interview is a very unreliable and unsatisfactory method of evaluating candidates. But in the absence of a better alternative, instead of being declared as irrelevant and irrational, it should be considered as a supplementary test to the entrance exams. It must be ensured that only highly qualified and competent individuals are selected to conduct the interviews.
  • The question regarding whether a corporation can be regarded as an ‘authority within the meaning of Article 12 arose before the court in R.D. Shetty V. International Airport Authority of India. Relying on the judgement passed in that case, the Court proposed a test to determine whether a corporation is an ‘authority within article 12.-
  • “One thing is clear that if the entire share capital of the corporation is held by Government, it will go a long way towards indicating that the corporation is an instrumentality or agency of Government.”
  • “Where the financial assistance of the State is so much as to meet the almost entire expenditure of the corporation, it would afford some indication of the corporation being impregnated with governmental character.”
  • “It may also be a relevant factor…….whether the corporation enjoys monopoly status which is the State conferred or State protected.”
  • “Existence of deep and pervasive State control may afford an indication that the Corporation is a State agency or instrumentality.”
  • “If the functions of the corporation of public importance and closely related to governmental functions, it would be a relevant factor in classifying the corporation as an instrumentality or agency of Government.”
  • “Specifically, if a department of Government is transferred to a corporation, it would be a strong factor supportive of this inference of the corporation being an instrumentality or agency of Government.”
  • It is also necessary to add that merely because a juristic entity may be an “authority” and therefore “State” within the meaning of Article 12, it may not be elevated to the position of “State” for the purpose of Articles 309, 310 and 311 which find a place in Part XIV.
  • The definition of “State” in Article 12, which includes an “authority” within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India, is limited in its application only to Part III and by virtue of Article 36, to Part IV: it does not extend to the other provisions of the Constitution, and hence a juristic entity which may be “State” for the purpose of Parts III and IV would not be so for the purpose of Part XIV or any other provision of the Constitution.
  • The Court observed that reserving 50 marks out of 100 for oral exams was excessive.
  • Setting aside admissions for the academic year 1979-1980 after 18 months would have caused immense hardships to the students who had already completed nearly 3 semesters.

Judgement:

  • Writ Petition Dismissed
  • Allocation of more than 15% of the marks for the oral interview would be arbitrary and unreasonable.
  • The College was deemed to be an instrumentality or agency of the Governments.
  • The College did not act arbitrarily while allotting admissions on the basis of written examinations and viva-voce examinations.

Rationale:

  • If a corporation is an instrumentality of the government, then it must be subject to the same restrictions and limitations in the realm of constitutional law as the government itself.
  • The entrance test enables a comparative talent assessment of candidates by providing a uniform standard. This uniform standard is always preferable to the evaluation of comparative merit based on marks obtained in qualifying examinations conducted by two or more authorities because lack of uniformity is bound to seep into the assessment of candidates by different exams of different authorities.
  • The first impression cannot be the last impression, especially when the interviews were not longer than 2 or 3 minutes and mostly formal questions related to marks and place of residence were asked instead of questions relevant to the candidates’ merit such as knowledge, experience, general personality etc.
  • Even if the petitioners were more qualified for admissions in the academic year 1979-1980, it would not be possible to restore them to that position since the academic year has long run out.
  • Setting aside admissions for the academic year 1979-1980 after 18 months would have caused immense hardships to the students who had already completed nearly 3 semesters.

Conclusion:

  • Where constitutional fundamentals essential to human rights are in question, functional realism, and not facial cosmetics, must be adopted as diagnostic tools since constitutional law must seed substance and not form. Oral interviews should only be considered as additions or supplementary to the written exams. The State and the Central Government must ensure that the people appointed to the Interviewing Committee are individuals of high integrity, immense credibility and competence.

Prepared by Mihir Poojary