Supreme Court: Wholesale Domicile Reservation Unconstitutional

Judge Gavel Law Insider

Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate

Published on: 01 May 2023 at 10:35 IST

While clearly, cogently and convincingly stating that domicile reservation should not become a “wholesale reservation”, the Supreme Court in a most learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled Veena Vadini Teachers Training Institute (Run By Veena Vadini Samaj Kalyan Vikash Samiti) v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors in Special Leave Petition (C) No. 12656 of 2022 has asked the State of Madhya Pradesh to review its decision to have 75% domicile reservation in B.Ed seats,”.

“The Apex Court Bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Aniruddha Bose and Hon’ble Mr Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia minced just no words to state precisely that, “We make it clear that though reservation in favour of residents is permissible, yet reservation to the extent of 75% of the total seats makes it a wholesale reservation, which has been held in Pradeep Jain to be unconstitutional and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.” The Court made this key observation while considering an appeal that was filed by a teachers training institute which challenged the 75% domicile reservation in B.Ed seats.

At the very outset, this brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment authored by Hon’ble Mr Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia for a Bench of the Apex Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice Aniruddha Bose and himself sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “The appellant before this Court is a training institute, run by a registered society by the name of “Veena Vadini Samaj Kalyan Vikash Samiti”. Inter-alia the institute trains teachers for B.Ed and M.Ed courses. One of the courses, which is run by the appellant-institute in Gwalior, State of Madhya Pradesh, is called B.Ed (Part time), which is designed to impart B.Ed training to in service teachers,”.

“We have also been told at the Bar that the appellant-institute is only one of the three institutes in the State of Madhya Pradesh which has been given permission to run this course, i.e. B.Ed (Part time). We are presently concerned with the alleged difficulties the appellant-institute is facing in making admissions to this course, for which the appellant blames the “admission policy” or the “guidelines” of the State of MP, and has challenged its constitutional validity before us.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench envisages in para 3 that, “Earlier the writ petition filed by the appellant challenging the Government policy dated 12.05.2022 was dismissed by the Division Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, by order dated 13.07.2022. The appellant as it appears, was seeking an interference from the High Court in the abovementioned Government policy, on the ground that it was violative of Articles 14, 15 and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution, as the government had made 75% of the seats reserved for the residents of Madhya Pradesh which is not permissible in law,”.

“The High Court, however, held against the appellant and had dismissed the petition. While doing so, it did not go into the details and disposed of the matter, in terms of the earlier Division Bench decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Preston College and Another v. State of M.P. & Ors. 2007 SCC Online MP 103, which, inter alia, had held that residential requirement in admission was not violative of the Constitution. We may add here that the challenge to the above 2007 decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court was made in an SLP (Civil) No. 5069 of 2007, before the court, which was dismissed as infructuous on 14.09.2018.”

As it turned out, the Bench then enunciates in para 4 that, “The appellant’s challenge to the above mentioned Policy dated 12.05.2022 (called “Admission Process and Guiding Principles 2022-2023”) is mainly on clause 1.5(a) of the policy, which allocates the B.Ed seats in the institute in the following manner:

“1.5 Division of seat numbers available in institutions

(a) The division of seats for admission in courses like the courses regulated by the National Council for Teacher Education to be conducted in Madhya Pradesh, B.Ed. M.Ed., B.Ed., M.P.Ed. (Two Years, B.Ed.-M.Ed. (Integrated Three Years) B.A.B.Ed., B.Sc.B.Ed and B.L.Ed. (Integrated Four Years) and B.Ed. (Part Time), shall be as follows –

1. Original Resident of Madhya Pradesh State

2. Candidates from other outside states

The category and category-wise allotment of seats available in the institution will be as per the ‘Reservation related clause’ mentioned in these guidelines and its subparagraphs. Out of the total available seats in the institution, 75 percent seats will be reserved for the residents of Madhya Pradesh state and maximum 25 percent seats will be available for the residents outside the state of Madhya Pradesh. 25 For the original residents of Madhya Pradesh state, as per the instructions of the General Administration Department’s letter number C-3- 7-203-3-A, dated, self-attested testimonial for the local resident will have to be submitted as per attached format 5.”  

                 As per the above provision, out of the total seats, 75% are reserved for “the residents of Madhya Pradesh” and the remaining 25% of the seats will only be available to the candidates who are from outside the State of Madhya Pradesh.”

                                      Be it noted, the Bench then notes in para 6 that, “The Case of the appellant, therefore, is that 75% of the seats which have been reserved for permanent residents of Madhya Pradesh, remain vacant due to the non-availability of residential candidates and as such the appellant may be permitted to fill these seats from outside candidates. This permission is, however, not given to the appellant.”

        Quite analytically, the Bench then stipulates in para 7 that, “There are two questions here; first is whether the State Government can reserve seats for “residents” of Madhya Pradesh and, then, in case if it is permissible; the second question would be whether as large as 75% of the total seats, can be reserved for the residents.”  

                       While citing the relevant case laws, the Bench observes in para 8 that, “As far as the first question is concerned, the same is no more res integra, as this Court in the case of Dr. Pradeep Jain and Others v. Union of India and Others (1984) 3 SCC 654, had upheld such reservation. Even prior to Pradeep Jain, residence based reservation was justified by this Court in the case of D.P. Joshi v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1955) 1 SCR 1215, but it is only in Pradeep Jain where an elaborate discussion on this aspect was done and such reservation were held to be valid. This departure from the Rule of selection based on merit was justified on two grounds. Firstly, what one may call as the State interest, which would mean the expenditure incurred by the State in creating the educational infrastructure and the cost of its maintenance and the second was the State’s claims to backwardness (Pradeep Jain Para 14). We must add that institutional and residential requirements were further held to be permissible in the case of Saurabh Chaudhari and Others. v. Union of India and Others reported in (2003) 11 SCC 146 which followed the ratio laid down in Pradeep Jain (supra). Further, this Court in Magan Mehrotra and Others v. Union of India and Others reported in (2003) 11 SCC 186 had upheld institutional preference given to those who completed their undergraduate studies in the same institution and again in Rajdeep Ghosh v. The State of Assam reported in (2018) 17 SCC 524 followed the ratio of law laid down in Pradeep Jain (supra). All these cases though were in the field of medical education.”

               On a practical note, the Bench then concedes in para 11 that, “The determination made in Pradeep Jain by this Court also goes 40 years back in history. This determination was made in 1984, when the social and economic conditions of the country and of the specific regions in question, weighed heavily in the minds of the learned Judges, which is reflected in passages after passages in Pradeep Jain. So is also the state of medical education in the country as it existed at that time. Yet, over the last 40 years, there has been a change in our medical education, which has seen a growth, at least in the number of such medical colleges which have come up, both in private and government sector. Similarly, there is a change in our social and economic condition as well. In any case, the conditions as it exists today is not the same, as was there 40 years earlier, when a decision in Pradeep Jain was taken.”

                       To put it differently, the Bench then specifies in para 12 stating that, “In the case at hand, we are not dealing with medical education, but with the validity of reservation based on residence requirement in a professional education course i.e. B.Ed. In our considered opinion, the ratio as laid down by this Court in Pradeep Jain would be applicable in this case as well but only to an extent, not fully. The reasons as we have already indicated are two: firstly Pradeep Jain and all the cases which follow Pradeep Jain deal only with medical education, and secondly the ratio as laid down in Pradeep Jain has also to be seen in the context of the time when it was delivered. In short, therefore, though we have to follow the principles as laid down in Pradeep Jain but at the same time we also have to keep in mind the ground realities of the present day. We also have to keep in mind that we are presently not dealing with medical education but admission in a professional education course called B.Ed.”

                              More to the point, the Bench then underscores in para 13 that, “This Court while upholding such reservations in medical education had considered factors such as huge investments the State had made in creating the infrastructure, the backwardness of the area, the presumption that the local residents after gaining the education will serve the people of that State, etc. All these factors may or may not be equally relevant while we are considering admission to other courses such as B.Ed in the present case.”

Do note, the Bench notes in para 14 that, “What is equally important is that it was in Pradeep Jain again that this Court had cautioned against largescale reservation under this head i.e. residents of the State. It cautioned against such largescale reservation calling it as “wholesale” reservations. Para 20 of this Judgment would be relevant:

“20. …We agree wholly with these observations made by the learned Judge and we unreservedly condemn wholesale reservation made by some of the State Governments on the basis of “domicile” or residence requirement within the State or on the basis of institutional preference for students who have passed the qualifying examination held by the university or the State excluding all students not satisfying this requirement, regardless of merit. We declare such wholesale reservation to be unconstitutional and void as being in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution.””

Broadly speaking, the Bench states in para 16 that, “In order to appreciate the facts of this case, we have been shown the data of the last 2 preceding years i.e., 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, and the appellant has tried to impress upon this court that almost all the seats which were reserved for the residents of Madhya Pradesh have remained vacant in the last two years. For instance, in the year 2021-2022, only 4 seats out of 75 reserved seats for the resident of Madhya Pradesh had been filled and in the year 2022-2023, only 2 seats out of 75 reserved seats had been filled, and thus 71 and 73 seats, respectively remained vacant for the last two years.”

 It cannot be glossed over that the Bench very rightly states in para 17 that, “Thus, it is apparent that the large percentage of seats reserved for the residents of Madhya Pradesh which remains unfilled is not serving any purpose. Moreover, a wholesale reservation for residents of Madhya Pradesh would also be violative of the law laid down in the case of Pradeep Jain, as we have referred above in this order.”

Most rationally and most significantly, the Bench then minces just no words to hold unequivocally in para 18 that, “Since the academic session for the year 2022-23 has already commenced, we would refrain from interfering in the matter but we direct the State of Madhya Pradesh to reappreciate this entire aspect, in the light of what we have said above. Though the State is within its right to reserve seats for its own residents, but while doing so, it must keep the ground realities in mind. Keeping 75% of the seats reserved for the residents of Madhya Pradesh is too high a percentage, and as the figures for the last two years indicate, it is also not serving any purpose. The number of seats from the next academic year shall, therefore be fixed again for residents and non-residents, keeping the observations made by us in this order. We make it clear that though reservation in favour of residents is permissible, yet reservation to the extent of 75% of the total seats makes it a wholesale reservation, which has been held in Pradeep Jain to be unconstitutional and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India [See Para 20 of Pradeep Jain (supra)].”

Most forthrightly, the Bench then directs in para 19 that, “The State Government may examine the data of last few years, in order to come to a realistic finding as to what should be the extent of these reservations. A wholesale reservation as we have seen is not serving any purpose rather it frustrates the very purpose of the reservation. This shall be kept in mind by the authorities while taking a decision in this matter, which shall be done within two months from today.”

Finally, the Bench concludes by holding in para 21 that, “All applications including IA Nos. 66056 and 66057 of 2023 also stand disposed of.”

 In a nutshell, the Apex Court has made it indubitably clear that wholesale domicile reservation is unconstitutional. It is high time and Madhya Pradesh State Government must comply with as directed by the Apex Court in this leading case.

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