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Quota confusion – Frontline

The Supreme Court orders the status quo in admissions already made in Karnataka and refers the State government’s new law to a larger Bench.

in Bangalore

An official of the CET Cell in Bangalore addressing parents and students after counselling was stopped following the Supreme Court’s interim order on August 19 that the status quo should be maintained in admissions.-K. GOPINATHAN

UNCERTAINTY and confusion continue in the matter of admissions to professional colleges for the 2004-05 academic year in Karnataka. The State government suspended counselling of students yet again after the Supreme Court by its interim order of August 19 ordered maintenance of the status quo as of that date with regard to admissions already made under the government or management quota. The court also referred to a larger Bench a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the legislation enacted by the State government, under which the government and the managements of aided, private and non-minority institutions would share seats in a 75:25 ratio.

The court was hearing petitions from the Karnataka Private Medical Colleges Association, the Karnataka Unaided Private Engineering Colleges Association, the M.S. Ramaiah Medical College, Bangalore, and M.R. Jayaram.

As of August 19, the Common Entrance Test (CET) Cell of the State government had filled over 20,000 engineering seats – accounting for its entire quota of 75 per cent in some colleges and around 20 per cent in others. Some of the managements had filled up 25 per cent of their seats, while others had allotted up to 50 per cent. The court asked both parties in the case to file affidavits on the seats allotted; it will hear arguments on August 27.

D.P. Nagaraj, director, R.V. Institutions, told Frontline that he had received 2,800 applications for the 200 seats available to him under the 25 per cent quota and counselling had been fixed for September 8.

Former Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily, who is the legal adviser to the State government on the admissions imbroglio, said the government had suspended counselling only because it “wanted to reconcile the figures (numbers) for seats already allotted by the CET Cell”. Said Moily: “The Karnataka High Court has ruled that once the CET issues an allotment card to a candidate and payment is made, it is considered a deemed admission. Admissions made by the CET Cell will have to stay. Managements will have to notify the Rajiv Gandhi Medical University on the details of their admissions. The process has to be transparent.”

Managements interpret the status quo order differently. Said Prof. M.R. Doreswamy, chairman of PES Institutions: “Status quo means the July 15 (2004) directions of the Supreme Court, spelling out a 50:50 seat-sharing. We have gone ahead with that formula and filled up seats. The court has not changed anything after that.”

Private college managements contend that the Karnataka Selection of Candidates for Admission to Medical, Dental and Engineering Courses (Special Provisions) Act 2004 is in violation of their constitutional rights, as ruled by the 11-member Bench of the Supreme Court in the T.M.A. Pai and Islamia Institute of Education (IIE) cases. Although the October 2002 T.M.A. Pai judgment did not spell out specific numbers for seat-sharing and only directed that “the percentage has to be done by the government according to local needs and different percentages can be fixed for minority unaided and non-minority unaided professional colleges”, the interim judgment (August 2003) in the IIE case resolved that for the 2003-04 academic year seats would be filled in the 50:50 ratio.

But with the S.M. Krishna government and the managements striking a cosy quid pro quo in 2003, seats were shared on a 75:25 basis – the government handing out 75 per cent of the seats through the rank list obtained after the CET and the managements `distributing’ the remaining 25 per cent. Hoping for a repeat of the 75:25 arrangement, the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government of M. Dharam Singh first tried to cajole and then threatened the managements. The government approached the Supreme Court, which by its July 15 interim orders upheld a 50:50 seat-sharing arrangement. The government then went in for legislation. This law, the petitioners contend, is against the apex court’s July 15 interim order. But the government maintains that the Act was necessary in the interest of social justice.

Said Moily: “The Act is in accordance with the Pai judgment whose findings were based on the merits of the case. The IIE order was only for the 2003-04 academic year and was based on prima facie evidence. The court has not stayed the operation of the Act. And with education being a Concurrent subject, the State has the power to make such legislation. With the Centre not enacting legislation to regulate professional education, we (Karnataka) went ahead.”

The Act was hurriedly pushed through by a government that was under pressure from within and outside. There were apprehensions even in the State Law Department that it would not stand scrutiny in court. That the Law Department has got even the nomenclature of the fee fixation committee wrong is perhaps an indication of how carelessly the Act was drafted.

THIS year the fee structure has also become a bone of contention. The government-constituted four-member Committee for the Fixation of Fee Structure of Private Professional Colleges had proposed the following annual fee structure in June: Rs.1.40 lakhs to Rs.1.72 lakhs for the medical undergraduate course (compared with the existing Rs.45,000 for government seats and Rs.1.97 lakhs for management seats), Rs.90,000 to Rs.1.10 lakhs for the dental course (at present Rs.23,000 for government seats and Rs.1.17 lakhs for management seats) and Rs.39,580 for the engineering course (now Rs.11,250 for government seats and Rs.38,290 for management seats). This has not found favour with either managements or students. Following criticism of the proposal, the chairman of the committee, A.B. Murgod, a retired High Court Judge, and two fellow-members resigned on July 19. H. Rangavittalachar, also a retired High Court Judge, took charge as the chairman of the committee on August 12.

The government was looking at ways to subsidise the education of certain sections such as the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the Backward Castes. But given the fact that this would cost it at least Rs.500 crores over the next five years, the government is having second thoughts. Dharam Singh met the representatives of the college managements on August 20 and then directed his officers to hold discussions with the managements to work out subsidies for meritorious poor students.

The managements would favour a structure that would entail fees of Rs.2.40 lakhs, Rs.1.40 lakhs and Rs.60,000 for medical, dental and engineering undergraduate courses respectively. The Supreme Court, while hearing arguments on August 19, directed that the dispute over the fee structure be adjudicated by the Karnataka High Court.

The managements accuse the government of trying to score political points and playing with the careers of students. Management representatives told Frontline that they had suggested last December that the CET Cell, which was doing a lot of good work, should, nevertheless, improve its methodology. More than 100 students are said to have got through fraudulently last year. The managements wanted it to be made an autonomous body with their representatives too in it. The government refused to oblige. This, said informed sources, was because the CET Cell was a cash cow, roping in Rs.600 crores annually from the sale of applications – at the rate of Rs.500 each – to around 1,20,000 candidates.

Added Doreswamy: “The government could have left 25 per cent of the seats to us and filled up the rest. That would have solved the problem.” Both sides are now arguing for a larger Bench to hear the issue. According to many this may take years. From the formation of the 11-Judge Bench to the judgment, the T.M.A. Pai case took nine years.

THE delay and confusion has only given a boost to the sale of seats for prices ranging between Rs.2 lakhs and 30 lakhs, with Bangalore-based colleges commanding the highest prices. Making matters worse for a section of the aspirants, and exponentially pushing up demand, is the government’s decision not to counsel non-Karnataka candidates, 12,000 of whom had taken the CET, for allotment of seats in private colleges. During the last academic year, the government had earmarked 210 medical, 210 dental and around 2,600 engineering seats for candidates from outside the State.

Newspaper advertisements in Orissa and West Bengal have invited inquires from candidates wanting “direct admission under the NRI and management quota”, which the court had banned. When this correspondent contacted Silicon Educare Pvt. Ltd, a Bhubaneshwar-based education consultant, the first question he was asked was “his budget for a seat”.

Seats were available irrespective of whether the candidate had taken the CET or the entrance test conducted by the Consortium of Medical, Dental and Engineering Colleges of Karnataka. All that was needed was pass marks in the Class XII or equivalent examination and an advance payment of Rs.50,000.

Indications are that there are many such agencies, which have devised a system to secure seats in violation of the Supreme Court’s directions.

Informed sources said that many consultants had entered into tie-ups with private colleges as far back as six months ago and booked seats, which they then hand out for a hefty price. Consultants proudly display letters emblazoned with the expression `Whomsoever it may concern’, which state that the consultant has been authorised on behalf of so and so management “to admit candidates”.

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