Educational institutions run by religious, linguistic minorities need not provide reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs: Madras High Court

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A view of the Madras High Court building in Chennai. File

A view of the Madras High Court building in Chennai. File
| Photo Credit: K. Pichumani

In a significant judgement, the Madras High Court has ruled that educational institutions run by religious and linguistic minorities need not follow the rule of reservation with respect to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Class students. It has also held that the government cannot compel such institutions to provide reservation to such candidates.

Partly allowing a couple of cases filed by Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women in Chennai, Chief Justice S.V. Gangapurwala and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu wrote: “We have no hesitation to hold that the concept of communal reservation or reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes of citizens would not apply to minority institutions.”

The judges also ruled the State government would not have any right to restrict the minority status of an institution to a particular period. They held the status, once granted, would continue until the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) cancels it on valid grounds such as the institution having lost the character in view of a change in its objective.

However, the first Division Bench, upheld the right of the State government to insist that the minority institutions could admit students from the religious and linguistic minorities concerned only up to 50% of the sanctioned intake and that the rest must be filled up on the basis of merit. The minorities who gain admission on merit should be excluded while calculating the first 50% of students, the Bench clarified.

The petitioner college had approached the court assailing a Government Order (GO) issued on November 20, 2021 rejecting the plea for extension of religious minority status to it since it had admitted 52% minority students in the academic years 2018-19 and 2019-20. Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram contended such admission had been made in violation of a 1998 GO which restricts admission of minorities to 50%

On the other hand, senior counsel Vijay Narayan, representing the college, claimed minority educational institutions should be granted a permanent status without being forced to get it extended from time to time. He also argued the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Private Educational Institutions) Act, 2006 would not be applicable to minority institutions.

Finding force in his submissions, the judges said, Article 15(5) of the Constitution, introduced through the 93rd amendment in 2005, specifically excludes minority institutions while enabling the State Government to make special provisions by law for the advancement of any socially or educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes relating to their admission to educational institutions.

Further, the definition of ‘private educational institution’ under Section 2(d) of the 2006 Act also excludes minority institutions established under Article 30(1) of the Constitution. “Therefore, it is manifest that the State would not have any authority to make any special provision providing for reservation to the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes or the backward classes of citizens for admission in a minority educational institution,” the Bench said.

On the second issue related to the State government restricting the minority status of an institution to a particular period, the Bench wrote: “The scheme of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutes Act, 2004 no way envisages grant of minority status for a temporary period or for a restricted period… The status would subsist until the Commission cancels the same.”

The judges agreed with the A-G on the third issue of restricting the admission of minorities to 50% of the sanctioned intake but added a rider that the minorities who gain admission on merit should not be considered to have gained admission under that 50% quota for minorities. Finally, they quashed the 2021 GO and directed the government to permit the petitioner institution to continue as a minority institution if it complies with other requirements.

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