THE LAWFILE

Ambedkar lesson for JNU & DU in court

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The country would not have had a B.R. Ambedkar and its “brilliant Constitution” if he was denied college admission over low marks, the Supreme Court said today, criticising JNU and Delhi University for failing to fill OBC quotas.

“The minimum pass mark those days was 35 per cent. Dr Ambedkar had got 37 per cent marks. If you had denied him admission at the threshold, would you have had a Dr Ambedkar and a brilliant Constitution?” a two-judge bench said while hearing a plea against the OBC reservation policies of the two universities.

OBC reservations at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have never in the past three years touched the 27 per cent mandated under a 1993 central act.

In 2008-09, it reserved only 12 per cent seats, excluding the creamy layer that was expected to compete in the general category. While only 9.93 per cent got in through the quota, another 10.33 per cent came in on merit. JNU then showed its total OBC reservation for the year as 20.26 per cent.

Delhi University (DU) has been giving a 10 per cent relaxation in marks to OBC candidates over the general category percentage but with cut-offs touching almost 100 per cent, OBC students are expected to get a minimum of 90 per cent to get into some of its elite colleges.

To justify this, DU has fallen back on a 2008 Supreme Court judgment that said the difference between the general cut-off and backward cut-off should not be more than 10 per cent. The aim was to balance the needs of the weaker sections with considerations of merit.

As a result of the cut-off mechanism, effective OBC reservation in DU has been in single digits, virtually nullifying the central act.

Both universities have been diverting the vacant OBC seats to the general category, something the top court had said earlier they could do.

But at today’s hearing, Justice R.V. Raveendran, sitting alongside Justice A.K. Patnaik, suggested the merit argument was being stretched too far. “Let us not harp only on merit. Equality is only equality between equals, not unequals. Some push is necessary for some, whether some like it or dislike it,” said Raveendran, who was part of a five-judge bench that had in 2008 upheld the 27 per cent quota.

To say general candidates have 90 per cent and no OBC students with less than 80 per cent will get in is “very “unreasonable”, Raveendran said.

“Institutions are required to help them (weaker sections). Money gives you access to better coaching, better standard of living. So more marks does not mean more clever. You (the varsities) must take material that is not the best and make them the best. You cannot insist that you will take the best,” he said, appearing to suggest high scores could come from having had facilities weaker sections often don’t have.

The strong pro-quota observations by the judge and his presence on the bench that had upheld the OBC quota law prompted a response from a group of anti-reservation students. P.P. Rao, the group’s lawyer, insisted the judges send back the matter to Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia to be placed before another bench.

Rao kept emphasising the minority judgment of Justice Dalveer Bhandari in the five-judge bench judgment which had warned against a too large gap between cutoffs for general students and those from weaker sections. He implied that another judge (Justice Raveendran) could not interpret Bhandari’s words. Justice Raveendran then recused himself from the matter, ensuring the debate remained inconclusive.

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