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Access to professional education is not a governmental largesse: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has observed in a judgment that the right to pursue higher education is not a governmental largesse [Farzana Batool v. Union of India].

The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah noted the same while deciding pleas filed by two students from Ladakh who sought directions to be admitted to medical colleges after they were selected from a central pool as per the policy of the Centre.

The judgment states,

“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.”

This obligation, the Court emphasised, assumes far greater importance for students whose access to quality education is hampered on account of caste, class, gender, religion, disability and geographical region.

By way of background, in November 2020, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had allotted one seat each at Lady Hardinge Medical College and Maulana Azad Medical College to the Union Territory of Ladakh from the central pool.

Pursuant to this policy, the administration of the UT nominated the petitioners for admission to the above mentioned medical colleges. Given the fact that they were not granted admission despite the nomination, they approached the Supreme Court for relief. It was contended that other similarly placed students had obtained admission to other colleges.

After considering the prayers, the Court directed that the petitioners be granted admission to the respective colleges, and that the admission formalities of both students be completed within a week.

While doing so, the Court stated,

“Financial hardship should not prevent the students from getting admission in terms of the allocation which has been made in their favor legitimately under the central pool seats.”

The Court also took the opportunity to cite recommendations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR Committee) which stated,

“As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities.”

Given that India is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Court held,

“Pursuant to these obligations which India has undertaken by being a signatory to the Covenant, the Union MHFW and the 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.”

The Court recommended the appointment of a nodal officer who will ensure that students who are duly nominated under the central pool seats are in fact admitted in their chosen course of study. Such an officer can serve as a one-point contact for students who may otherwise face numerous difficulties in securing their admission, even after they have been allocated the seat, the Court suggested.

“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 judgment reads.

Advocate Neeraj Shekhar appeared for Farzana Batool, Additional Solicitor General RS Suri appeared for the Centre, whereas ASG KM Nataraj appeared for the Union Territory of Ladakh.


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Via Bar & Bench
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