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"Sponsored Candidates Are A Distinct Class By Themselves": Andhra Pradesh HC Denies Reclassification Of Sponsored Medical Seat To General

7 July 2022 11:26 AM GMT
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Andhra Pradesh HC

In a writ petition challenging rejection of admission under a sponsored seat, the Andhra Pradesh High Court clarified that 'sponsored candidates' are a distinct class of applicants who have to fulfill certain eligibility criteria for being treated as such and the Petitioner did not fulfil the criteria for admission under it; hence, there was no breach of rules or violation of equality.

The Petitioner appeared for an entrance exam called the Institute of National Importance Super Speciality Entrance Test (INI-SS) seeking admission in DM Paediatrics Critical Care course. The Petitioner secured fourth rank in the exam. The Petitioner raised the issue of the non-conversion of a sponsored seat into a general seat.

PGIMER, Chandigarh had two 'sponsored seats' which no candidate was qualified for. The Petitioner sought admission through the two vacant seats. After the Respondents refused to grant the seat, he filed a writ petition which was allowed and permitted the Petitioner to make a representation for the seat. The said order was challenged by a co-Respondent in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not interfere in the order passed but left open all the questions of law to be agitated including the issues about the cut-off date before the High Court.

The Petitioner then made representations before two of the co-respondents seeking a seat, which were rejected. A revised notification was issued prohibiting allotment of sponsored seats for general seats. The Petitioner filed this writ petition seeking direction to set aside the two rejection orders of the Petitioner's representations and to allot one seat in the pending vacant sponsored seats, noting that he is willing to pursue his course without any stipend.

The Petitioner argued that the issue of jurisdiction was already decided when he approach the High Court in his previous petition and any subsequent objection of the respondents will be hit by the principles of res judicata and cannot be entertained. He further argued that impugned rejections were sent to the Petitioner's address in Andhra Pradesh, hence, a part of the cause of action had occurred here, giving the Andhra Pradesh High Court territorial jurisdiction.

Moving to the issue of the cut-off date, he contended that it was a mere technicality; that no rule or right of the respondents would be violated if the Petitioner joins after the cut-off date. He put forward that merely relying on the cut-off date to deny admission to a meritorious student would ruin his professional career. He submitted that leaving the seats vacant would be a waste of resources and will not serve the interest of the public. The petitioner relied upon Index Medical College, Hospital & Research Centre v. State of Madhya Pradesh and others, in which the Supreme Court held that not filling up of the medical seats is not a solution to the issue and that the seats being kept vacant result in a huge financial loss to the institution apart from being the national waste of resources.

The Assistant Solicitor General argued on behalf of the Respondents that the Court did not have the territorial jurisdiction to entertain the said matter, as the prospectus, which is binding on all candidates, any dispute is subject to the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court alone. He also submitted that no fundamental right of the Petitioner was infringed within the State of Andhra Pradesh for the High Court to have jurisdiction.

He contended that the cut off date was a 'sacrosanct' date which cannot be relaxed by the Court. He cited several Supreme Court judgments to argue that midstream admissions are often frowned upon by the Supreme Court, which has left this question open, to be decided. He pointed out that the notification for the second round of counselling had already been issued, so, the seat may not remain vacant, as predicted by the Petitioner.

He argued that a 'sponsored seat' is not the same as a 'reserved seat'. There is no budgetary sanction for salary for these seats. Each seat has some basic eligibility criteria and that the petitioner does not fulfil any of the eligibility criteria. Sponsored seats are created to train in-service doctors for skill improvement. The prospectus of the institution specifies that the candidate must be a permanent employee of the institution which is sponsoring him and he or she should be continuously working for three years. The sponsored candidate should also be employed by the sponsoring authorities for 5 years after the training is completed. The sponsoring institution can only be a Central or State Government institution or an Autonomous Body, Public Sector College etc. Based on these arguments, he submitted that both on merits and as per law, the petitioner is not entitled to any relief.

The Court was of the opinion that clauses which limit jurisdiction to one Court or the other by using terms like 'only', 'alone', 'exclusively' etc., will not limit the jurisdiction being exercised by the Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. These clauses can be used to limit a Court's jurisdiction only in contractual disputes. Citing Maharashtra Chess Association v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., the Court declared that every writ petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution should be holistically scrutinised and it is not open to the High Court to abdicate this responsibility merely on account of a privately negotiated document ousting its jurisdiction. The Court agreed with the Petitioner that a fraction or part of the cause of action had arisen within Andhra Pradesh giving the High Court territorial jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

The Court opined that the clause purporting to oust the Court had to be strictly construed. The clause in question mentioned that any dispute in regard to any matter referred to 'herein' shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the Delhi Court alone. It did not refer to other matters mentioned before or use the words 'herein before' or 'herein after'. Therefore, it was limited to the 15 issues which were mentioned in the sub-clause.

The Court held that principle of res judicata will not apply, as urged by the Petitioner, as the issue of jurisdiction has been left open by the Supreme Court.

The Court decided that, in both fact and law, it had the territorial jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

The Court pointed out that what the Petitioner was seeking was 're-classification', and not 'de-reservation' of a seat. Sponsored seats are a distinct category of applicants. Candidates will have to fulfil the eligibility criteria that are set for them, to be considered for admission under a sponsored seat, which are created to provide training to in-service doctors who would then return and serve the institution. The Respondents had already pointed out that the Petitioner does not meet the set conditions and their contention was not denied in the rejoinder. Thus, the Court found, the Petitioner and the candidates for sponsored seats could not be treated as 'equals' for the petitioner to allege inequality or a violation of his constitutional rights.

The issue of the cut-off date, the Court noted that there was a conflict between two judgments of the Supreme Court (one of which the Petitioner relied upon) and the matter was referred to the Supreme Court in S. Krishna Sradha v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others. The Supreme Court clearly answered the reference and if the present matter was examined in the backdrop of the Supreme Court's ruling, one had to be convinced on the following five grounds:

(1) there is no fault attributable to the candidate,

(2) candidate has pursued his legal remedies without delay,

(3) there is a fault only on the part of the authority,

(4) there is a breach of rules and regulations and other principles for admission which would violate the right of equality and equal treatment and

(5) the time schedule prescribed is not over.

If these conditions are present and the Court is of the opinion that it is an exceptional circumstance and is a rarest of rare case, the Court can direct admission in the course by increasing the one or two seats. However, the court sounded a note of caution that this direction can only be given within one month from the cut-off date.

The High Court was of the opinion that unless all these factors are present in sequence or in conjunction, no relief can be granted to a candidate. The Court cited the case of Medical Council of India v. Madhu Singh and others, in which the Supreme Court held that vacancies in the seat or the course cannot be a ground to give admission.

The Court found that these conditions were not qualified in the present case. The Petitioner was not eligible for a seat as a sponsored candidate, which was a distinct category in itself. There was no fault on part of the authorities. There was no breach of rule, let alone a violation of equality or equal treatment. The 30-day period had also expired.

Accordingly the writ petition was dismissed.

Case Title: Kuchibhotla Srivatsa Versus The State of Andhra Pradesh

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (AP) 88

Click Here To Read/Download Judgment

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