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SC says access to professional education no government largesse

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New Delhi, Apr 14: Access to professional education is not a governmental largesse and state has an affirmative obligation to facilitate its reach at all levels, the Supreme Court has said.

This obligation assumes far greater importance for students whose background imposes formidable obstacles on their path to access quality education, the apex court said.

SC says access to professional education no government largesse

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah made these observations in a verdict on separate pleas filed by two students from Ladakh who were not admitted to MBBS degree course in medical colleges here despite due nomination by the Union Territory and in terms of the seats notified by the Centre.

While the right to pursue higher (professional) education has not been spelt out as a fundamental right in Part III of the Constitution, it bears emphasis that access to professional education is not a governmental largesse. Instead, the state has an affirmative obligation to facilitate access to education, at all levels, the bench said in its judgement delivered on April 9.

This obligation assumes far greater importance for students whose background (by virtue of such characteristics as caste, class, gender, religion, disability and geographical region) imposes formidable obstacles on their path to accessing quality education, it said.

While allowing the petitions filed by the two students, the top court directed that the admission formalities be completed immediately and, in any event, within a week.

The bench noted that both the petitioners were nominated by the Ladakh administration for admission to MBBS degree course under the central pool' seats set apart by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

It noted that one of them has been allocated seat at Lady Hardinge Medical College while the other has been assigned to Maulana Azad Medical College.

We have been constrained to take up the issue under Article 32, since the fundamental rights of students from Ladakh to pursue professional education are implicated, it said.

We will in the course of this judgment deal, of course, with the grievance of the two students. But we intend to deal with the issue on a systemic basis so that other students who may lack resources, or simply the knowledge about legal remedies, are not deprived of education, the bench said.

It noted that Additional Solicitor Generals R S Suri and K M Nataraj, representing the Centre and Ladakh, have stated that since due allocations have been made in favour of the petitioners, there is no reason and justification to deny them the benefit of admission.

The bench noted in its verdict that through a communication dated February 19 this year issued by the UT administration, the Director of Health Services Ladakh (DHSL) had forwarded the list of selected candidates from Ladakh to be admitted in the central pool medical seats for the year 2020-2021.

In order to obviate the hardship which has been caused to these students, we also direct that all the students who are referred to in annexure A to the notification dated 19 February 2021, as extracted above, be granted admissions to the concerned institutions, if not already given so far, it said.

We are issuing these general directions in order to obviate the possibility of each of the similarly placed students being required to move this court. Financial hardship should not prevent the students from getting admission in terms of the allocation which has been made in their favour legitimately under the central pool seats, the bench said.

In its verdict, the bench referred to the committee on economic, social and cultural rights (ICESCR) which was formed to monitor the implementation of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was ratified by India in 1979.

The ICESCR committee pertinently notes that disparities in spending policies that result in differing qualities of education for persons residing in different geographic locations may constitute discrimination under the Covenant, it said.

The bench said that pursuant to these obligations which India has undertaken by being a signatory to the Covenant, the health ministry and DHSL shall ensure proper co-ordination so that students allocated colleges under the central pool seats are not put to hardship in enrolling once they have been duly allocated their seats.

It said they can consider appointing a nodal officer tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that students who are duly nominated under the central pool seats are admitted in their chosen course of study.

Such an institutional framework will ensure that students are not left in the lurch due to lack of help in securing their legitimate admission to the appropriate course. In this way, it will help remedy the broader problem of which the case before us is a symptom, the bench said.

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