SC sends notice to Centre, IITs on plea alleging violation of reservation policy in faculty recruitments

THE Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice to the Central Government and the 23 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) on a petition seeking directions to them to implement reservation policy in the admission in the research degree programs and in the recruitment of faculty.

A three-judge bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna was hearing a petition filed by academic-cum-researcher, Sachchida Nand Pandey.

In his plea filed through Advocate-on-Record Ashwani Kumar Dubey, Pandey has urged the Court to direct the Union Government to evolve a mechanism for resolving the complaints of harassment by students and scholars with transparency and in a time-bound manner. Besides, the plea seeks direction to the IITs to constitute a committee of technical experts to review the performance of the existing faculty,  violation of reservation norms, and to facilitate the formation of a transparent recruitment policy.

The bench, however, clarified that it would issue notice only on the first prayer, that is, regarding the implementation of the reservation policy in the IITs.

Pandey contends that the admission process to the research program and the appointment of faculty members to the IITs is totally unconstitutional, illegal, and arbitrary, as they are not following the guidelines on the reservation as per the constitutional mandate.

As per the current reservation policy, the Scheduled Castes (SCs), the Schedule Tribes (ST) and the Other Backward Classes (OBC) are to be provided with 15%, 7.5%, and 27% reservation respectively in public institutions of higher education.  The petitioner, however, has alleged that in the last five years, IITs have admitted only 2.1%, 9.1%, and 23.2 % of ST, SC, and OBCs category scholars.

“From 2015 to 2019, IIT Bombay did not admit a single Ph.D. scholar from ST category in 11 Departments and Centres out of 26,” the petitioner claims. He cited a media report in this regard to buttress his claim.

Petitioner also refers to a statement made by the then Union Education Minister Prakash Javedkar informing Parliament that out of 6,043 faculty members across various IITs, 21 were from ST and 149 were from SC. This, the petitioner states, means that 0.3% is from ST and 2.3% are from the SC category.

Similarly, the representations of OBCs are also very low, petitioner states.

In addition, the petition highlights the issue of suicide by IIT students. It says that in the last few years as per news reports, more than 50 students have lost their lives at IITs. However, IITs never come up with any proper reason why the students committed suicide. Mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, due to poor quality of teaching, supervision, caste and racial harassment are the primary reasons, the petitioner alleges.

In 2019, Parliament passed the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act (CEI Act) to provide for the reservation of posts in appointments by direct recruitment of persons belonging to the SCs, the STS, the socially and educationally backward classes, and the economically weaker sections, to teachers’ cadre in certain Central Educational Institutions, established, maintained or aided by the Central Government. The Act also excludes from its purview certain institutions of excellence, research institutions, institutions of national and strategic importance. IITs have not been exempted from the applicability of reservation policy.

As reported by the Indian Express last year, an eight-member committee appointed by the government for suggesting measures for effective implementation of reservation in admissions and faculty recruitment in IITs had recommended that the 23 engineering schools should be exempted from reservations under the CEI Act, 2019, and rather than specific quotas, diversity issues should be addressed through outreach campaigns and targeted recruitment of faculty.

Among the two sets of recommendations made by the committee, one stated that IITs should be added to the list of “Institutions of Excellence” mentioned in the Schedule to the CEI Act. Section 4 of the Act exempts “institutions of excellence, research institutions, institutions of national and strategic importance” mentioned in the Schedule and minority institutions from providing reservation.

IIT Bombay’s Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle had condemned the report and said:

“Instead of highlighting wrongs in the existing selection process and recommending ways to correct those, the committee carries their casteist ignorance and leaves the blame on candidates from reserved categories for not being ‘qualified enough’. There exists sufficient data to suggest that the lack of qualified candidates from the reserved categories was never a reason for their lack of admissions in PhD programmes at the IITs. It is the cut-off mark that is used to deny entry to eligible SC/ST/OBC students in campuses like IITs for years.” 

The Government has not taken any decision on the report till now.