Delhi High Court imposes 10 lakhs cost on father of a minor student for availing EWS benefits by misrepresentation; Issues directions for RTE compliance

delhi high court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed by a minor student challenging the show cause notice dated 24-01-2019 and the resultant order dated 09-02-2021, both passed by Directorate of Education (respondent 1), whereby, the admission of the petitioner was cancelled by Sanskriti School (respondent 2). Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav, J., dismissed the petition on the ground that the petitioner failed to show any cogent reason which would indicate that either the due procedure, as required by law, was not followed in the process of orchestrating a fair hearing to enable the petitioner or his father to present their case or any real prejudice has been caused to the petitioner.

The father of the petitioner got the requisite income certificate issued by the Tehsildar to secure admission for his son to Sanskriti School, New Delhi. His annual income was assessed as Rs. 67, 200/- from all sources, thus, the petitioner got admitted to the school in 2013, availing the quota for EWS based on the income certificate of his father. However, in January 2018, when the father of the petitioner wrote letters to the principal of respondent 2 School seeking alteration in the category of petitioner from EWS to General category and change in address of the petitioner’s residence, it raised eyebrows, and an inquiry was forwarded to Directorate of Education. While examining the veracity of the documents, it was found that there was a discrepancy with respect to the voter IDs and an FIR was lodged against the father of the petitioner. The investigation revealed that the family of the petitioner never stayed in the EWS resident camp, thus cancelling the admission.

As per the inquiry report, the income certificate was obtained by misrepresentation of the actual income by the petitioner’s father, whereby, he declared his total income from all the sources as Rs. 67,200, however, the self-declared income as per Income Tax Returns (ITR) for the year 2012-13 himself alone was Rs. 4,23,850 along with domicile certificate was found to be null and void by the DM. A petition was filed against the cancellation of his admission which was thereby allowed because no show-cause notice was issued to the petitioner before passing the cancellation order. However, on 13-08-2018, respondent 1 once again cancelled the admission based on the status report. Another petition was filed challenging this, which was allowed on the grounds of the violation of principles of natural justice, without recording the merits. A show cause notice was, thereafter, issued seeking explanation as to why the admission should not be cancelled, however, after duly considering the submissions made by the petitioner’s father, respondent 1 passed a detailed order on 09-02-2021, cancelling the admission of the petitioner. Assailing this, instant petition was filed.

On the aspect of whether the petitioner obtained admission under EWS category in a mala fide manner and by engaging in egregious fraud or misrepresentation, the Court noted that a bare perusal of the income of the petitioner’s father alone, for the subsequent years, was consistently above the required threshold and thus, the petitioner was disentitled from claiming any right on the seats reserved for the EWS category. Though the certificates of income, domicile and birth were initially issued by the Government authorities, they were obtained based on the misrepresentation of facts by the petitioner’s father. The entire case revolved around the income of the petitioner’s father and since, the factum of income itself was premised on a false factual foundation, the fraudulent act concerning domicile and birth certificate does not require any deliberation.

On the aspect of whether the scope of Article 226 being equitable and discretionary, warrants invocation in favour of the petitioner in the given facts and circumstances, the Court further noted that because the petitioner has tried to resort to the equitable jurisdiction of the court with tainted hands, therefore, the petition is liable to be straightforwardly rejected, however, taking into consideration that it is the third round of litigation preferred by the petitioner, it seems proper to delve into the merits of the case to satisfy the conscience and to meet the ends of justice.

On the aspect of whether the petitioner was afforded an effective hearing in congruity with the principles of natural justice, particularly the rule of audi alteram partem, the Court observed that in view of notice dated 04-02-2019, a personal hearing in the form of a meeting was scheduled by respondent 1. At the time of the hearing, the father of the petitioner sought two weeks to file the reply, which was granted. On the following date of the hearing, i.e., 26-02-2019, the father of the petitioner filed the reply and asked for all the documents relied upon by respondent 1 about the show cause notice. During the hearing, he was also asked to provide a clear list of documents so that the same could be considered and 3 days as prayed for were granted to the father of the petitioner for giving him the list of documents. Also, a further 12 days was provided for filing an additional reply, subsequently, on 02-03-2019, the father of the petitioner requested to provide the details of complete verification that has been carried out along with all the supporting documents and reports of the competent authority. Thus, without jeopardizing the interest of the petitioner, the documents relied upon by respondent 1 were duly supplied to the father of the petitioner following the tenets of natural justice.

The Court remarked that it is evident that a requisite opportunity to effectively present his case before the adjudicatory administrative authority was granted to him, in tandem with the letter and spirit of law governing the principles of natural justice. The outcome of the hearings may not be desirable for the petitioner, however, that does not imply that he was restrained from presenting his case at all. The petitioner may not have found the outcome of cancellation of admission as a desirable one, however, the court cannot hold it unconstitutional on the sole premise of undesirability, as long as the outcome was a result of a fair and reasonable procedure which provided sufficient opportunity to the petitioner to participate in the process.

Thus, it is the impetuous malfeasance of the father of the petitioner, yearning for the admission of his son dehors the applicable regulations, which has led to tribulation for the petitioner and caused a debacle of the noble motives which the EWS reservation seeks to achieve. The Court held that nothing could be more unfortunate for a school-going child, at the stage of learning ethical and moral values, being made to suffer on account of the misdeeds of his father, thus, only a sum amounting to the tune of Rs. 10,00,000 is imposed as costs in lieu of the cancellation of the admission of the petitioner vide orders dated 09-02-2021 and 15-02-2021, and in lieu of continuation of the petitioner’s admission to be deposited within 6 months from the date of judgment.

Considering to align the scheme with its intended purpose and to curb the evils such as the one practiced in the instant case, the Court passed the following directions to ensure the implementation of the RTE Act and Delhi School Education (Free seats for Students belonging to Economically Weaker Sections and Disadvantage Group) Order, 2011 (2011 Order) in its true letter and spirit:

i. The Government of NCT of Delhi, after assessing the prevailing economic conditions in the NCT of Delhi and considering other relevant factors therein, shall take a decision as expeditiously as possible to increase the existing threshold income of Rs. 1 lakh per annum to a commensurate amount which corresponds to the living standards of the intended beneficiaries of the scheme in the NCT of Delhi. Needless to observe, the criteria must be scientific and must be based on actual data.

ii. Till the aforesaid exercise is done and appropriate amendment is made in the scheme, the required income under Clause 2(c) of Delhi School Education (Free seats for Students belonging to Economically Weaker Sections and Disadvantage Group) Order, 2011 shall be considered to be increased to Rs. 5 lakhs instead of Rs. 1 lakh as all the other States have the threshold amount in question to the tune of almost Rs. 8 lakhs.

iii. The aforesaid directions are made operational with immediate effect.

iv. The Government of NCT of Delhi must immediately eradicate the mechanism of self-declaration and bring in place an appropriate framework for continuation of free seats in schools as envisaged under Clause 6 of 2011 Order.

v. The Government of NCT of Delhi must ensure that DOE shall duly exercise its power under Clause 5(e) of 2011 Order to diligently verify the admissions at regular intervals and to ensure that nobody is admitted without fulfilling the requisite eligibility.

vi. In order to suitably implement the directions at (iv) and (v) above, the DOE shall frame a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for income verification and regular monitoring of the eligibility criteria.

[Master Singham v Directorate of Education, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 7663, decided on 05-12-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Vaibhav Sethi, Ms. Priya Pathania, Mr. Vikhyat Oberoi, Ms. Jagriti Pandey, Mr. Onmichon Ramlal, Mr. Mohit Garg, Mr. Rana Bed, Ms. Diksha Kakkar and Mr. Aditya Khanna, Advocates for petitioner

Mr. Santosh Kumar Tripathi, Standing Counsel for GNCTD with Mr. Arun Panwar, Mr. Pradyumn Rao and Mr. Utkarsh Singh, Advocates for respondent 1

Mr. Siddharth Nath, Ms. Khushboo Hora and Mr. Anunay Chowdhary, Advocates for respondent 2

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