Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ has held that the NRI quota for admission to private medical colleges is neither sacrosanct, not inviolable in terms of existence in any given year, or its extent and the same can be done away with it by the state regulating authority by giving reasonable notice of such a decision to enable those aspiring to such seats to choose elsewhere, having regard to the prevailing conditions.


FACTUAL MATRIX


  • On 17.03.2020, when the NEET PG Medical & Dental Admission/Counselling Board (the Board) convened the meeting attended by representatives of all participating colleges (including private medical colleges offering seats in the postgraduate medical courses in Rajasthan), the unanimous thinking was to offer NRI/Management seats to the extent of 15% of the total admission intake.
  • When the provisional seat matrix was published on 10.04.2020, it did not indicate that those opting for admission exclusively as NRI candidates would be considered as belonging to any other category.
  • On 11.04.2020, the private colleges sent their final matrix to the board. This matrix, unbeknown to the NRI candidates, proposed deletion of the NRI quota.
  • In the circumstances, when the final matrix was published for each college detailing the quotas for individual disciplines, the original earmarking for NRI candidates was absent.
  • On 14.04.2020, a notification was issued by Board stating that that the seat matrix for the current year would not contain the NRI Quota in the private medical colleges of Rajasthan. It read as

“Seat Matrix (13.04.2020) available at the website (compiled on the basis of seats information provided by respective colleges) does not have any NRI seat this year. The candidates who have applied for allotment on NRI seats will accordingly be considered based on their remaining eligibility criteria.”


ARGUMENTS


The students had argued that having held out to all NRI candidates about the availability of seats for that quota as well as the sequence of filling up those seats, at the penultimate hour, the board could not have decided unilaterally or even permitted colleges unilaterally to withdraw the NRI quota seats altogether.

The counsel appearing for the private colleges, on the other hand, urged that the decision not to offer an NRI quota in medical colleges in the state of Rajasthan was voluntarily and consciously taken, given the extraordinary and unusual situation created by the pandemic. The explanation given by the colleges was that in their assessment, NRI quota seats might not have been filled up to the normal expected levels and in the circumstances, it was more appropriate to merge the seats earmarked for NRI candidates with the management seats.

“The accommodation of NRI quota candidates who had opted to be treated as such, in the admission process was transparent and uniform in that all of them were considered on merits for the management quota seats. Thus, there was no real prejudice suffered by such NRI candidates.”


WHAT THE COURT SAID


On PA Inamdar Verdict and its applicability

The four crucial elements in the NRI quota, per PA Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 6 SCC 537 are: one, the discretion of the management (whether to have the quota or not); two, the limit (15%); three, that seats should be available for genuine and bona fide NRI students, and lastly that the quota was to be filled based on merit. However, there is nothing in PA Inamdar to say that a 15% NRI quota is an unqualified and unalterable part of the admission process in post graduate medical courses.

On scope of discretionary power of private medical colleges on NRI quota

A combined effect of the provisions of the Medical Council of India Act and regulations with respect to admissions (which have been progressively amended in respect of eligibility for admission to courses, procedure for admission, etc.) and the decisions of this court, is that private colleges and institutions which offer such professional and technical courses, have some elbow room: they can decide whether, and to what extent, they wish to offer NRI or management quotas (the limits of which are again defined by either judicial precedents, enacted law or subordinate legislation).

However, the discretion of private managements who set up and manage medical colleges cannot be left to such an untrammelled degree as to result in unfairness to candidates. Undoubtedly, these private institutions have the discretion to factor in an NRI or any other permissible quota. Yet that discretion should be tempered; if the discretion to have such a quota is exercised, it should be revised or modified reasonably, and within reasonable time.

On the facts of the case

This case presents some unusual features in that the admission calendar appears to have been thrown out of gear on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. The NEET written test was held in January, and the results were declared on i.e. 31.01.2020. At that stage, and soon thereafter till the end of March, the thinking of the colleges and the board appears to be that the NRI quota in private medical colleges would be maintained (evident from the minutes of meeting dated 17.03.2020).

In terms of the board’s notification of 10.04.2020, the NRI students’ documents were to be verified on 14.04.2020. Apparently, immediately a day after that notification, on 11.04.2020 to be precise, the private colleges en masse appear to have decided not to proceed with the NRI quota and instead ‘merge’ it with the 35% management quota seats, and proceed to fill them entirely based upon rank based merit of the management quota candidates arranged in terms of their ranking and performance in the NEET. NRI candidates were to be treated as management quota candidates, and their applications too, considered on the basis of their overall merit in that category.

Considering the abovementioned facts, the Court noticed that

“Viewed in isolation, this decision is perfectly valid; it gives one the impression that NRI students were not prejudiced. Undoubtedly, the decision to abolish the NRI quota was exclusively within the scope of the private institutions’ decision-making. Yet what is apparent is that by this time, the NRI students had not only started applying for counselling, but had also submitted all their documents for verification to determine their eligibility for the NRI quota seats, and in a sense, committed themselves as candidates for NRI quota seats in Rajasthan for whatever perceived advantages they could reasonably see in their favour. Hence, when the matter stood thus, when the final seat matrices were published on 13.04.2020, it acted to the unfair detriment of these NRI students.”

On relief to the students

In the circumstances of this case and to do justice to all the parties, the Court directed that a special counselling session should be carried out by the board, confined or restricted to the seats in respect of which admissions were made pursuant to the single judge’s directions.

In this counselling session,

  • The board should ensure participation of the concerned colleges; the counselling shall be a limited one, confined only to the number of seats offered and filled as a result of the single judge’s judgment.
  • Such seats shall be offered to the NRI applicants solely on the basis of merit; the seats vacated by such merited students (in the other disciplines) shall then be offered to the beneficiaries of the single judge’s orders.
  • If for any reason, such students (i.e. lower down in NRI merit, who are offered seats in other disciplines) do not wish to take up the offer, the college concerned shall refund the fee collected from such student.

The Court also made clear that this special round of counselling should not disturb those admissions, where students had accepted the deletion of the NRI quota, and were accommodated in the management quota, unless they had approached the court at the earliest opportunity, in April 2020, before the judgment of the learned single judge. The entire process shall be completed with a week.

[Nilay Gupta v. Chairman NEET PG Medical and Dental Admission/Counselling Board 2020 and Principal Govt. Dental College,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 819, decided on 09.10.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: A writ petition was entertained by Manoj K. Tiwari, J. where the petitioner was aggrieved by the order passed by the Appellate Court, where it set aside the status quo passed by the learned trial court. 

The Court observed the appellate jurisdiction over the original jurisdiction of the Courts and noted that, grant of temporary injunction was discretionary and appellate court should not interfere with such discretion of court of first instance except where discretion had been shown to exercised arbitrarily or capriciously or perversely or where the court had ignored the settled principles of law regulating grant or refusal of interlocutory injunctions, as held by the Supreme Court in Esha Ekta Appartments CHS Ltd. v. Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, (2012)4 SCC 689. It was also observed that the appellate courts when called upon to consider the correctness of an order of injunction passed by the trial courts which had reversed the order of lower courts, the Supreme Court had held that, “In such appeals, the appellate court will not interfere with the exercise of discretion of the court of first instance and substitute its own discretion except where the discretion has been shown to have been exercised arbitrarily, or capriciously or perversely or where the court had ignored the settled principles of law regulating grant or refusal of interlocutory injunctions. 

‘An appeal against exercise of discretion was said to be an appeal on principle. Appellate court doesn’t reassess the material and seek to reach a conclusion different from the one reached by the court below if the one reached by that court was reasonably possible on the material. The appellate court would normally not be justified in interfering with the exercise of discretion under appeal solely on the ground that if it had considered the matter at the trial stage it would have come to a contrary conclusion. If the discretion had been exercised by the trial court reasonably and in a judicial manner the fact that the appellate court took a different view may not justify interference with the trial court’s exercise of discretion.’

Hence, the Court stated that scope of interference by the appellate court with the court that passed the order of temporary injunction was limited and in any case, two views were available then the view taken by the court of the first instance had to be maintained. 

But Court while examining the instant petition noticed that the appellate court had not assigned any reason for disturbing the discretionary order passed by the trial court. It was also observed that in Maharwal Khejwaji Trust v. Baldev Dass, (2004) 8 SCC 488, the Supreme Court had held that “unless and until a case of irreparable loss or damage is made out by a party to the suit, the court should not permit a change of the said status quo, which may lead to loss or damage being caused to the party who may ultimately succeed and may further lead to multiplicity of proceedings.” 

It was observed by the Court that trial court had considered three major points while passing the order was balance of convenience, prima facie case and irreparable loss to the parties, it indicated that the trial court was justified in directing the parties to maintain status quo in order to maintain and preserve property. 

Thus, the petition was allowed and the order of the appellate court was set aside. [Ashok Kumar v. Pramil Kumar, 2019 SCC OnLine Utt 855, decided on 02-09-2019] 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee, JJ was called upon to decide whether the existence of an alternate remedy would create a bar on High Court’s writ jurisdiction, it held,

“The existence of an alternate remedy, whether adequate or not, does not alter the fundamentally discretionary nature of the High Court’s writ jurisdiction and therefore does not create an absolute legal bar on the exercise of the writ jurisdiction by a High Court.”

Explaining that the court added that courts had themselves imposed certain constraints on the exercise of their writ jurisdiction to ensure that the jurisdiction did not become an appellate mechanism for all disputes within a High Court’s territorial jurisdiction, the bench said,

“The intention behind this self-imposed rule is clear. If High Courts were to exercise their writ jurisdiction so widely as to regularly override statutory appellate procedures, they would themselves become inundated with a vast number of cases to the detriment of the litigants in those cases.”

This would also defeat the legislature’s intention in enacting statutory appeal mechanisms to ensure the speedy disposal of cases.

On the argument that if, by the self-imposed rule, the writ jurisdiction of High Courts is circumscribed by the existence of a suitable alternate remedy, whether constitutional, statutory, or contractual, then a High Court should not exercise its writ jurisdiction where such an alternate remedy exists, the bench said that it is a misconceived argument and that,

“The mere existence of alternate forums where the aggrieved party may secure relief does not create a legal bar on a High Court to exercise its writ jurisdiction. It is a factor to be taken into consideration by the High Court amongst several factors.”

[Maharashtra Chess Association v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 932, decided on 29.07.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the appeal against the order of the High Court where it refused to issue mandamus to the Central Government directing the Central Government to issue a notification under Section 11C of the Central Excise Act, 1944 to the effect that duty payable by the appellant on goods manufactured by it shall not be paid, the Court said that where the statute vests a discretionary power in an administrative authority, the Court would not interfere with the exercise of such discretion unless it is made with oblique end or extraneous purposes or upon extraneous considerations, or arbitrarily, without applying its mind to the relevant considerations, or where it is not guided by any norms which are relevant to the object to be achieved.

The appellants had contended that excise duty on the goods manufactured by the appellant i.e. Rosin/Turpentine, is, otherwise, payable in law, however, insofar as the history of payment of excise on these goods is concerned, record shows that vide notification No. 179/77-CE dated 18.06.1977, the Central Government had exempted all goods, falling under Item No.68 of erstwhile First Schedule to the Central Government Excise and Salt Act, 1944 in or relation to the manufacturing of such goods where no process is ordinarily carried on with the aid of power, from the whole of the duty of excise leviable thereon. Hence, recovering excise duty from the appellants violates their rights under Article 14 or Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

Rejecting the said contention, the Court held that it would neither be a case of discrimination nor it can be said that the appellants have any right under Article 14 or Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution which has been violated by non-issuance of notification under Section 11C of the Act. Once the appellant accepts that in law it was liable to pay the duty, even if some of the units have been able to escape payment of duty for certain reasons, the appellant cannot say that no duty should be recovered from it by invoking Article 14 of the Constitution. It is well established that the equality clause enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution is a positive concept and cannot be applied in the negative.

The Bench of Dr. A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, said that when ‘power’ is given to the Central Government to issue a notification to the effect not to recover duty of excise or recover lesser duty than what is normally payable under the Act, for deciding whether to issue such a Notification or not, there may be various considerations in the mind of the Government. Merely because conditions laid in the said provisions are satisfied, would not be a reason to necessarily issue such a notification. It is purely a policy matter. [Mangalam Organics Ltd. v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 461, decided on 24.04.2017]