Updated: August 11, 2021 10:16:12 am
In a setback to the Maharashtra government, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday quashed and set aside its May 28 government resolution (GR) to hold a common entrance test (CET) for students of all educational boards for admissions to Class XI or first-year junior colleges on the basis of Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (MSBSHSE) or SSC syllabus.
The court observed that the decision was “unfair” and discriminatory” and taken in an “illegal manner”, causing threat to the life of students who had to appear for the exam offline. The CET was to be held on August 21 for around 10.75 lakh students.
The HC directed that admissions to Class XI will be conducted based on Class X marks of students across all boards and the process has to be completed within six weeks from Tuesday. It asked the government to issue an order cancelling CET within 48 hours.
A division bench of Justice Ramesh D Dhanuka and Justice Riyaz I Chagla was hearing a writ petition filed by Ananya Patki, a student of Mumbai’s IES Orion School – affiliated to CISCE – calling the May 28 GR “discriminatory”. Advocate Yogesh Patki, her father, had told HC that the order was violative of articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and would cause problems as lakhs of non-vaccinated students between 15 and 16 years of age would have to appear for CET in the offline mode.
On May 28, the Maharashtra government had announced that admissions to Class XI will be conducted physically through optional CET based on Class X state board syllabus. Those unwilling to appear for CET would be admitted on the basis of the aggregate of their Class X marks.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, representing Maharashtra, had maintained that the state was competent to issue the CET notification, which is “optional”, and will be conducted by following all Covid-19 protocols to ensure admissions on “merit-cum-choice” basis.
The bench in its judgment observed, “Large number of minor students who are more susceptible to draconian pandemic would be forced to expose their life to a big risk, which would be in gross violation of their Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution. It would have a serious cascading effect.”
“Life is more important than the choice of the students to get admission in a preferred junior college, which even otherwise would be secured by Centralized Admission Process (CAP) admission method subject to the merits of each student.”
Noting that holding CET would cause “prejudice” to students, the court observed that if students from remote places are forced to appear for the exam, it would cause “tremendous hardship and injustice” to them. “Since there is no specific provision in law for holding such CET, therefore, the state cannot have issued such a notification,” it added.
The HC further said that if the notification is not set aside, students from other boards such as CISCE, CBSE and IGCSE would be “forced to appear” for CET based on the state board syllabus – which is new to them – to get admission in “preferred college”. This would deprive them of fair competition, it added.
Justice Dhanuka, who authored the ruling, said that the HC could not understand the anxiety of the state to hold CET “at any cost”. He said that if CET was allowed, the academic year would not last for more than four to five months and commencement of the new academic year would be further delayed.
The order stated, “By imposing such arbitrary and unreasonable conditions, a large number of the students who have been waiting to start their second inning by taking admission in junior college are suffering from mental trauma, anxiety and tension. If CET is allowed to be held in this manner at this stage, it will cause gross injustice to all the students, including the students who have passed in Class X through the state board. There is no reasonable nexus in introducing such a CET examination in such an illegal manner.”
The HC held that it had a duty to intervene as it cannot be a “silent spectator” and was required to “protect people” by setting aside such a decision “having far reaching consequences”.
It added that students belonging to districts severely affected by Covid-19 would suffer “gross injustice” if CET was allowed, as they would have to appear for the same “at the cost of their life”.
When the state sought a stay on the operation of the order, the court refused the request.
Later, School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad told mediapersons that the state will take appropriate action after studying the order. “The decision to hold CET was taken to minimise the educational loss suffered by the students. We will study the HC decision and take action accordingly,” she added.