Delhi High Court grants relief to a student seeking admission in BITS Pilani after CBSE violates ‘legitimate expectation of the students’

The factum of the recommendation and its acceptance was kept a secret from public and students at large, until the fag end and on the very date the results were declared, it was disclosed to the students. This clearly shows the arbitrariness and lapse on the part of the Board to keep the students in the dark about the weightage formula adopted for preparation of final result.

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: In a case where a student (‘Petitioner’) was unable to take admission in BITS Pilani due to less percentage than the one required to meet eligibility for admission. This was due to CBSE (‘Respondent 1′) modifying the weightage formula without formal announcement aggrieving the petitioner and many other students. Chandra Dhari Singh, J. expressed his disappointment towards the glaring lapses and lackadaisical approach adopted by the CBSE. It further directed CBSE to compute the result of the petitioner again and calculate his marks as per the original declaration of giving equal weightage to Term 1 and Term 2 Exams, however clarified that the petition was partly allowed in view of the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case and shall not operate as a precedent.

CBSE issued “Special Scheme of Assessment for Board Examination Classes X and XII for the Session 2021-22” under which it decided to conduct the 2022 Board examinations in two Terms i.e., Term-I & Term-II and if COVID situation improved, it will conduct the exams in offline mode. The assessment will be done by giving equal weightage to both term exams i.e., 50-50. In October, 2021 as circulated, offline exams were conducted however the assessment was done giving 30% weightage to 1st term exams and 70% to 2nd term exams. The petitioner qualified the BITSAT 2022 entrance exam but, due to the changed weightage formula for calculation of XII Board marks, failed to meet the criteria of minimum 75% marks in XII results in the three subjects, namely – Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Therefore, the petitioner is unable to secure admission to BITS, Pilani.

Thus, an instant petition was filed challenging the circular as the petitioner is aggrieved by the modification of earlier announced 50%-50% weightage formula to 30%-70% weightage assigned to theory marks scored in Term-I and Term-II for preparation of Result of the 12th CBSE Board Examinations.

Whether a legitimate expectation has arisen due to the circulars issued by the CBSE and if so, what remedy can be granted to the petitioner for breach of such expectation by the CBSE?

Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

Placing reliance on Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Service (1985) A.C. 374, the Court noted that the doctrine of legitimate expectations is founded on the principle of fairness in government dealings. It comes into play if a public body leads an individual to believe that they will be a recipient of a substantive benefit.

Placing further reliance on the State of Bihar v. Shyama Nandan Mishra, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 554, the Court noted that the substantive legitimate expectation is not ultra vires the power of the authority, the State cannot be allowed to change course and belie the legitimate expectation. Regularity, Predictability, Certainty and Fairness are necessary concomitants of Government’s action and a failure to keep these commitments would permit the State’s action to be interdicted.

Thus, the Court observed that since the circulars were issued by Respondent 1 CBSE, as an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Education, in discharge of its public function, the doctrine of legitimate expectation can be attracted against it.

The Court concluded that there was nothing on record to suggest that any such order was passed by the Chairperson/Competent Authority accepting, enforcing and notifying the recommendation regarding the new weightage formula. Accordingly, merely on the basis of the recommendation of the Committee, the Competent Authority decided to prepare the final result for Class XII and Class X by giving the weightage to Term-I at 30% (for Theory Papers) and to Term-II at 70% (for Theory Papers).

The Court remarked that in a matter of hours, the result of lakhs of students was prepared and published the very next day, that is on 22-07-2022.

Thus, the Court directed CBSE to calculate and declare the result of the petitioner as per the formula declared in the Original Scheme dated 05-07-2021. The Court further decided not to interfere with the Revised Scheme of Weightage of Term-I and Term-II exams dated 23-07-2022 in the greater interest of the students at large and to ensure that justice does not in itself become an agent of chaos, as well as in light of the fact that the petitioner did not pray for setting aside the impugned circular of revised weightage formula.

[Devasri Bali v. Central Board Secondary Education, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 2602, decided on 26-08-2022]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Ms. Anusuya Salwan, Mr. Bankim Garg, Mr. Shakaib Khan, Mr. Rachit Wadhwa and Ms, Advocates, for the Petitioner;

Mr. Chetan Sharma, ASG with Mr. Rupesh Kumar, Ms. Pankhuri Shrivastava, Mr. Amit Gupta, Mr. Saurabh Tripathi, Mr. Rishav Dubey, Mr. Sahaj Garg and Ms. Neelam Sharma, Advocates, for the CBSE;

Mr. Rajesh Gogna, CGSC with Mr. Devvrat Yadav G.P., Mr. Vidit Jain, Mr. Digvijay and Ms. Priya Singh, Advocates, for the UOI.

*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

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