The Delhi High Court has permitted St Stephen’s College to adopt a separate admission procedure for admitting Christian candidates in the case concerning a challenge to the University of Delhi’s Execution Council decision dated December 8, 2022, insisting that 100 per cent weightage is given to Common University Entrance Test (CUET) score for admissions.
The court’s Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad, allowed St Stephen’s College to adopt 85 per cent weightage to CUET score and 15 per cent weightage to interviews of shortlisted Christian candidates. Meanwhile, the college would give 100 per cent weightage to the CUET score for General candidates.
“A conjoint reading of the aforesaid judgment, the minutes of the meeting dated 08.12.2022 and the impugned notification dated 30.12.2022 prima facie shows a complete lack of reasoning as to why the judgment of this Court has been given a go-by by the Respondents and indicates non-application of mind on their part while making the impugned decision,” the court said.
“In view of the above, this Court is of the opinion that a prima facie case has been made that the Petitioner (St Stephen’s College) will suffer an irreparable loss if interim relief is not granted at this juncture. The balance of convenience also lies in favour of the Petitioner,” the court added.
The court relied on its earlier ruling in St Stephen’s College v University of Delhi (2022) wherein the court observed that “Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India is not absolute and the State has the right to formulate regulations concerning the administration of a minority institution to the extent that it is for the furtherance of the interest of the minority community and is in a bid to prevent maladministration of the minority institution.”
The court also relied on the Supreme Court’s ruling in St Stephen’s College v University of Delhi (1992), wherein it said, “it is for the minority institution to decide what would be best for the minority community.”
The Fight For Stephen’s Elitist Character
Ever since the University of Delhi mandated CUET scores for admissions into affiliated institutions, St Stephen’s College has been at loggerheads with it. The minority institution is persistent in giving a 15 per cent weightage to interviews.
In 2022, a leftist student organisation, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS), protested at DU North Campus alleging that interviews were an ‘elitist tradition.’ The KYS said, “This is an elitist tradition as the only reason to conduct interviews is to select the most elite students for admission into the college. The criterion has been persistently used to deny students from deprived backgrounds from gaining entry into the college and thereby maintain the elitism of granting admission and perpetuating the privilege of select clans and families.”
Even Stephen’s former Principal Valson Thampu, in an interview, revealed that the interviews are slanted in favour of the elite. He said, “I recall interviewing a girl from a tribal community in Rajasthan when I was the principal. She was from a Hindi-medium school and the interview can be intimidating for someone who is not comfortable in English. She was trembling when she came in. Eventually, I interviewed her in Hindi and my broken Hindi made her comfortable.” He added, “The merit of the institution is driving on social elitism and I wanted that to be switched to intellectual elitism.”
However, Stephen’s Principal John Varghese claimed that the college would continue to follow its admission process involving interviews. He said, “This is the admission process – time-tested, proven, and guaranteed through a landmark judgment delivered by the highest court of the land that will be followed for admission to the college.”
Notably, St Stephen’s College is associated with the Church of North India. The Supreme Council of the College consists of members of the Church, including the Principal of the College. The Church’s Bishop of the Diocese of Delhi is the Chairman of the Supreme Council. The Supreme Council has control over the religious and moral instructions of the students and all matters affecting its religious character as a Christian institution.
On June 9, 1980, the University of Delhi issued a circular mandating that admissions for undergraduate courses must be made based on the marks obtained in the qualifying examination. St Stephen’s College moved the Supreme Court challenging the circular, contending that as a minority-run institution, it was entitled to devise its own admissions procedure under Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India. Thereafter, the Supreme Court held that the University of Delhi’s circular would not be applicable to the Petitioner-College and Stephen’s would be “entitled to a free run when it comes to admitting students in order to maintain the minority character of the institution.” Thus, the apex court held that the Christian institution’s procedure for conducting interviews for shortlisted candidates was valid.
The apex court’s opined that merit judging based on scores obtained in different qualifying examinations adopting different standards may not be fair and proper, thus, the court held that Stephen’s procedure for conducting interviews was permissible.
CUET was introduced as a single competitive examination at the national level to ascertain the merit of candidates who come from various boards. On December 20, 2021, the University of Delhi issued a notification stating that students for undergraduate courses in the academic session 2022-23 would be admitted through CUET scores. However, the petitioner-college, in response to the University of Delhi, said that while the CUET is acceptable for ascertaining merit, the minority Christian institution would be entitled to continue “with its time honoured and proven admission process involving an interview to select candidates.” The court notes that the petitioner said, in its email response to the University of Delhi, that the interview process would be offered with a weightage of 15 per cent.
In April 2022, the University of Delhi published a bulletin of information wherein it notified that admissions for General candidates to Stephen’s College would be based on CUET score, whereas for Christian candidates 85 per cent weightage would be afforded to CUET score and a 15 per cent weightage would be afforded to the interviews. However, the Christian institution responded to the University of Delhi’s bulletin, stating that Stephen’s College would conduct interviews for all shortlisted candidates and issued a press release to the same on April 20, 2022.
In response to Stephen’s College’s press release, the University of Delhi sent a letter to the college reiterating that 50 per cent of the admissions for General candidates must be made based on the CUET score, whereas the remaining 50 per cent of admissions for minority candidates could be based on the combined score of CUET and interviews.
However, Stephen’s College released its Admission Prospectus on May 23, 2022, announcing that admissions for the institutions would be made based on CUET (85 per cent weightage) and interviews (15 per cent weightage) for both – General and Christian candidates. The University of Delhi sent another letter to the Christian institution, directing them to withdraw the Admission Prospectus and issue a public notice that the university’s admission policies would be applicable to admissions to the college.
St Stephen’s College moved the Delhi High Court seeking the quashing of the University of Delhi’s letter directing the Christian institution to withdraw its Admissions Prospectus and issue a public notice that the university’s admission policies would be applicable to the college.
However, the Delhi High Court refused interim relief to Stephen’s College and held that the fundamental rights accorded to the Christian institution under Article 30(1) of the Constitution of India cannot be extended to non-minority members.
“Article 30(1) is not absolute and the State has the right to formulate regulations concerning the administration of a minority institution to the extent that it is for the furtherance of the interest of the minority community and is in a bid to prevent maladministration of the minority institution. Aided minority educational institutions that are affiliated with a University must follow the norms and procedure of the said University,” the court said in its order dated September 12, 2022.
The Christian college moved the Supreme Court to challenge the Delhi High Court’s order. However, the apex court refused to stay the operation of the high court’s order. The Supreme Court observed a distinction between the factual matrix in the 1992 case and the present scenario. The court noted that for the first time a common entrance test – CUET – was introduced for admissions to various colleges, including St Stephen’s College.
“After taking into consideration the Judgment impugned before us, we find no reason at this stage to stay the operation of the impugned Judgment. Consequently, the prayer for interim relief, as prayed for, is rejected. However, the admission process shall remain subject to the final outcome of the appeals,” the court said in its order dated October 19, 2022.
Executive Council’s CUET Notification
The University of Delhi’s Executive Council held a meeting on December 8, 2022, and in view of the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court’s ruling, decided that admissions for academic session 2023-24 would be made based on CUET score, including for minority category candidates.
“The Executive Council of the University of Delhi at its meeting held on 08th December 2022 resolved that with effect from the Academic Session 2023-24, admissions, both at the Under-Graduate (UG) and Post-Graduate (PG) level, including those under reserved category and minority quota will be carried out centrally, solely on the basis of Common University Entrance Test (CUET) score. This is issued with the approval of the Competent Authority,” the Executive Council said in its December 30 notification.
St Stephen’s College moved the Delhi High Court to challenge the Executive Council’s decision and subsequent notification. The court granted interim relief to the Christian institution, allowing it to adopt different admission processes for General and Christian candidates. The court permitted Stephen’s College to have 85 per cent weightage afforded to CUET score and 15 per cent weightage afforded to interviews for Christian candidates, meanwhile, General candidates would be admitted solely based on the CUET score.