The court clarified that the admissions conducted would be subject to the final outcome of the petition. However, with the next date of hearing set for March next year, combined with the impending admission process, the outcome of the petition has become a fait accompli, at least with regard to the admission of students for this academic year.
A division bench of the Supreme Court dismissed, on Wednesday afternoon, a plea by St. Stephen’s College for continuing with its admission process of interviewing students, in addition to test scores, for non-minority category seats. The division bench, comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and C.T. Ravikumar, directed St. Stephen’s to carry out admission to its seats for non-minority students solely on the basis of marks obtained in the Common University Entrance Test (‘CUET’) for the time being, as per the norm followed by the rest of Delhi University.
St. Stephen’s had filed an interim relief application before the Supreme Court for stay on a Delhi High Court judgment from last month that had barred the college from conducting interviews as part of the process for admission of non-minority category students. The high court had held that CUET marks are the only criterion to be followed for such admissions.
St. Stephen’s was intending to admit students by allocating 85 per cent weightage to their CUET scores, and 15 per cent weightage to their performance in interviews. It will use this admission process for admission to seats reserved for minority students.
This is the inaugural year that all colleges of the Delhi University are using CUET scores for admissions. Previously, they would rely on students’ marks in their Class XIIth board examinations. St. Stephen’s, till last year, would allocate 85 per cent weightage to board exam scores, and 15 per cent weightage to interview performance, for admission to all its seats.
The bench listed the matter for full-fledged hearing in March next year. It also clarified that the admissions conducted by the college would be subject to the final outcome of the special leave petition by St. Stephen’s against the high court’s decision. The late date of the hearing, combined with the impending admission process, however, ensures that the outcome of the petition has become a fait accompli, at least with regard to the admission of students for this academic year.
What happened during the hearing
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing St. Stephen’s, defended the college’s insistence on using interviews to admit students, citing its status as a minority educational institution with autonomy in respect of decisions pertaining to admissions, as per Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
On the other side, Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, for Delhi University, argued that allowing interim relief to the applicant would have pan-India repercussions, as it would encourage other colleges to wish to opt out of admitting students on the basis of CUET scores. He submitted that the CUET was introduced for admissions to undergraduate courses at central universities in order to bring uniformity into the process, and that none of the other minority colleges in Delhi University had opposed admissions on the basis only of CUET marks. Therefore, there was no need to bring in an additional criteria in the form of an interview by St. Stephen’s.
Mehta did concede that the college is at liberty to have its own separate process of admission for minority category students.
Sibal defended the college’s prerogative to conduct interviews for admissions, citing the 1991 judgment of a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court in St. Stephen’s College versus The University of Delhi, in which the court had upheld the college’s admission process, which included an interview component, while limiting the weightage of the interview component to 15 per cent of the total assessment.
He also explained the rationale of the interview component of the admission process, stating that it helped the college understand the personality of candidates. He also submitted that ‘merit’ and ‘marks’ cannot be correlated. He further cited the National Education Policy, 2020 as well as college admissions in other countries to demonstrate that marks cannot be the sole criteria for admissions to colleges.
However, the bench did not accept Sibal’s arguments. It questioned the relevance of the interview in light of the uniformity brought in by CUET. It also expressed scepticism over the lack of objective assessment inherent in interviews, and questioned how candidates could objectively know the standards that will be used for interviews.