At least four judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in last three months have recused themselves from hearing the Chandigarh Administration and its Education Department’s petitions against minority status of two major private schools of the city. Similarly, a division bench of the High Court earlier this month released another major private school’s case for fresh hearing after keeping reserved the verdict in the matter since December 2018.
Among the schools facing the challenge, Vivek High School is the only educational institute whose minority status stands quashed by a single bench last year. However, its appeal against the judgment is pending before a division bench. St. Kabir Public School’s minority status continues to remain stayed on order of a single bench since February 2018. The petition challenging the minority status of St. Stephens School also is pending but there is no stay order. The cases have been pending since February 2018.
Since the petitions against minority status of St. Kabir Public School and St. Stephens are similar in nature, they are heard together by the same single bench in accordance with the rules. On Monday, Justice Rajiv Narain Raina recused himself from hearing the matter and ordered it to be listed before some other bench after orders from the Chief Justice.
On March 5, Justice Harsimran Singh Sethi also recused from hearing the cases. On February 8, Justice Gurmeet Singh Sandhawalia also ordered the case to be listed before some other bench. In an exception, Justice Sandhawalia gave a reason that he is personally known to the administrator of one of the schools. On January 22, Justice Tejinder Singh Dhindsa also ordered the matter to be listed before some other bench.
Similarly, a division bench of Justices A B Chaudhari and Harnaresh Singh Gill on March 8 released the appeal filed by Vivek High School against a single bench decision which quashed its minority status in August 2018 for rehearing, three months after it had reserved its verdict following the hearing of arguments from both sides.
The division bench had earlier reserved the judgment on December 7, 2018, after hearing the appeal filed by the Bhagwant Singh Charitable Trust, which runs the Vivek High School, on three consecutive days — December 5, 6 and 7. Two judges in the High Court in the very beginning last year had also recused from hearing the appeal. Justice Arun Palli recused from hearing the case on the very first day on October 12 and Justice Mahesh Grover did the same on October 22.
All the three cases relate to the minority status granted to the schools by National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI). The educational institutes running on the land provided by the UT Administration in Chandigarh are required to reserve 15 per cent seats for EWS category students. Also, under the Right to Education Act, the private schools are required to reserve 25 per cent seats for the EWS students. However, the provisions of law are not applicable to schools having the minority status.
While the next date of hearing for the writ petitions pending before the single bench is not available, the appeal of Bhagwant Charitable Trust is listed for hearing on April 24. The division bench of Justices Ajay Kumar Mittal and Manjari Kaul Nehru on request of parties in the case adjourned the hearing on Monday.
Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain in the verdict quashing the minority status of Vivek High School, Sector 38, had said said that the trustees of the school altered the original trust deed of Bhagwant Singh Charitable Trust “illegally” to evade the law under which the school was required to reserve seats for students belonging to the Economically Weaker Section. Justice Jain had said the trust was secular in nature as per the 1974 Trust Deed as the trustees had not made a reference to their religion then and also had not mentioned that the school has been created for the benefit of the Sikh community. The simple purpose was to impart education, the court said.