08 Feb 2121

The Apex Court declares the Central Government's decision of not lowering the qualifying cut-off percentile for admission to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course for the academic year 2020-2021 based on irrelevant considerations.

Case : Harshit Agarwal & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. Writ Petition (C) No.54 of 2021

Court :

Bench : Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Krishna Murari

Decided on : 08 Feb 2121

Relevant Statutes

Article 32 of the Constitution of India

Dental Council of India

Regulations II(ii) and II(5)(ii) of the Revised BDS Course Regulations, 2007

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. The Petitioners in 1st Writ Petition were students who appeared in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) 2020 for admission to the first year of Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) conducted on 13-09-2020. They did not obtain the minimum marks prescribed by Regulation II(ii) of the Dental Council of India, Revised Bachelor of Dental Surgery Course Regulations, 2007.

2. The Dental Council of India (Respondent No.2) recommended the lowering of the qualifying cut-off percentile for admission to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course for the academic year 2020-2021.

3. The Petitioners submitted a representation to the Central Government of India (Respondent No.1) seeking to lower the qualifying cut-off percentile on the recommendation of the Executive Committee of Respondent No.2. The recommendation of the Executive Committee was not accepted by Respondent No.1. Having no other alternative, the Petitioners filed the Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.

4. The Petitioners in the 2nd Writ Petition were Dental Colleges from the State of Andhra Pradesh seeking a similar direction to lower the minimum marks for National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test examination, 2020 for admission to Bachelor of Dental Surgery course by 20 percentile in each category based on the recommendation of Respondent No.2.

Issue of the Case

Whether the exercise of the discretion by the Respondent No.1 is for the purpose specified in the Regulations and whether irrelevant considerations have been taken into account making the decision irrational?

The Observations of the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court of India observed that:

1. Judicial review of administrative action is permissible on grounds of illegality, irrationality, and procedural impropriety. An administrative decision is flawed if it is illegal. A decision is illegal if it pursues an objective other than that for which the power to make the decision was conferred.

2. Respondent No.1 had lowered the qualifying cut-off percentile for National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Under Graduate) 2019 for admission to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course by 10 percentile for each category. Respondent No.2 by a letter proposed that the percentile for admission to Bachelor of Dental Surgery course in Dental colleges should be lowered by 20 percentile for each category. It was stated that the students qualified were not commensurate with the sanctioned admission capacity in different courses like Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), Bachelor of Dental Surgery, Under Graduate Ayurvedic, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Sidha, and Homeopathy [(UG) AYUSH] and other Under Graduate medical courses, and that there was a shortage of the students for admission to Bachelor of Dental Surgery course and underlined the fact that vacant seats in professional courses would amount to national waste. However, Respondent No.1 decided not to lower the minimum marks required for admission to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course.

3. There is no unfettered discretion in public law [Food Corporation of India v. M/S Kamdhenu Cattle Feed Industries, (1993) 1 SCC 71]. The discretion conferred on authority has to be necessarily exercised only for the purpose provided in a Statute. The exercise of discretion is subject to judicial scrutiny if a purpose other than a specified purpose is pursued. If irrelevant considerations are taken into account for reaching the decision or relevant considerations have been ignored, the decision stands vitiated as the decision-maker has misdirected himself in law.

4. The proviso to Regulation II(ii) empowers the Central Government to exercise its discretion to lower minimum marks only when a sufficient number of candidates fail to secure minimum marks. The Central Government cannot pursue any purpose other than the one specified in the proviso to Regulation II(5)(ii).

5. The stand of the Central Government was that there were 7 candidates available for each seat and, therefore, there was no need to lower the minimum marks. Respondent No.1 calculated this without taking into account the fact that the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Under Graduate) 2020 is conducted for admission into different courses like Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, Bachelor of Dental Surgery, Under Graduate Ayurvedic, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Sidha, and Homeopathy and other medical courses That apart, it is clear from the letter of the Dental Council of India that National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test has also been made mandatory for admission to All India Institute of Medical Sciences and like institutions, and Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (ZIPMER) which were hitherto conducting their separate entrance test. The total number of seats available for the academic year 2020-2021 for Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery were 91,367, Bachelor of Dental Surgery were 26,949, and Ayurvedic, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Sidha, and Homeopathy were 52,720 making it a total of 1,71,036 seats. Whereas, the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test qualified candidates were 7,71,500. The ratio of seats available vis-à-vis eligible students was 1: 4.5 and not 7.

6. The basis for the decision to not reduce minimum marks that there are sufficient eligible candidates is without considering the vital facts and without having consulted Respondent No.2. The decision which materially suffers from the blemish of overlooking or ignoring, wilfully or otherwise, vital facts bearing on the decision is bad in law. [Baldev Raj v. Union of India, (1980) 4 SCC 321]

7. The minimum marks have been reduced by Respondent No.2 for the super speciality courses for the previous year and Ayurvedic, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Sidha, and Homeopathy courses for the current year. If reducing minimum marks amounts to lowering the standards, Respondent No.1 would not do so for super speciality courses.

The Decision Held by the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court allowed the writ petitions and held that

1. The decision to not reduce the minimum marks for admission to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course set aside for having the vices of illegality and irrationality.

2. The vacant seats in the first-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery course for the year 2020-2021 were directed to be filled up from the candidates who had participated in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Under Graduate) courses for the year 2020-2021 after lowering the percentile mark by 10 percentile. The candidates belonging to the general category who secured 40 percentile, students belonging to the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe/Other Backward Classes categories who secured 30 percentile, and general candidates with benchmark disabilities specified under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 who secured 35 percentile were held to be eligible to be considered for admission in the first year of Bachelor of Dental Surgery course for the year 2020-2021.

3. Any other student who qualified in National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Under Graduate)-2020 even without lowering the minimum marks and was willing to participate in the admission process could be considered for admission to the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course.

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