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Mumbai, Jun 24: The Bombay high court on Wednesday struck down the state government’s best-of-five rule introduced this year for determining the percentage of marks of SSC (Senior School Certificate) board students.
Allowing the petition of the parents of 21 ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education) board students, the court directed the government to commence the junior college admission procedure (online in Mumbai) across the state “without adherence to the best-of-five policy”.
Students celebrate High Court judgement in Mumbai
“Once again, discriminating against students equally placed, the state government did not say why the best-of-five application was restricted to students of the SSC board,” justices JN Patel and SC Dharmadhikari said while dictating their order in open court.
The government’s policy to bring about “uniformity” in the marks of SSC students compared to those of other boards, has taken a beating for the third year in a row. The percentage of marks of over 16 lakh SSC students across Maharashtra may now dip with the inclusion of the sixth subject, in which they scored the lowest marks.
Under the best-of-five rule, the percentage of SSC students is calculated by taking into account five of six subjects in which they secure the highest marks.
The judges held that even while striking down the percentile system in 2008 and the 90:10 rule in 2009, SSC students were not a “disadvantaged” group who needed to be brought on a par with other students.
The court on Wednesday took the view that the government was well aware of its decision in the percentile and the 90:10 cases. Despite repeated submissions that the SSC students were at a disadvantage, the court said:
“We are sorry to say that the state has miserably failed to substantiate its stand that the SSC students are at a disadvantage.”
The court also said that when the ICSE petitioners said “discrimination was writ large on the government’s decision”, it was incumbent on the government to support the stand that SSC students were disadvantaged.
The court was of the view that article 14 of the constitution mandates equality before law. “Equals cannot be treated unequally and vice versa,” the judges said. Irrespective of the boards they come from, the court held, all students were seeking admission to junior colleges run by the state government (HSC).
“What led the state government to exclude the non-SSC students (from the benefit of the best-of-five rule) is not clear to us at all. The government had told the court that other boards were free to enforce the best-of-five policy on their own.” However, the court said: “There is no clear assurance whether the state would apply the best-of-five rule irrespective of boards.”
The judges went on to add that the government, in law, was permitted to amend its rules in order to “upgrade” students of the SSC board, but this is something the SSC board had not requested. “The state government on its own has decided to restrict the best-of-five policy to SSC students,” the court observed and described the rule as a step taken by the government “under the garb of uniformity”.
The court was also irked at the manner in which the state government issued the government resolution of February 25 announcing the implementation of the best-of-five rule and the subsequent corrigenda. “It takes April 10 to notice an error, another month to rectify it and another month to issue corrigenda — on June 14 and 16,” the judges noted, stating that the government was well aware that other boards would declare their results before that.
“If the corrigenda are issued at such a stage, students and parents don’t know what policies are being evolved. This is not a happy scenario. The state ought to be more vigilant,” justice Dharmadhikari said.
The judges said the government had learnt no lesson from the court’s previous orders in the percentile and the 90:10 cases. The judgments had relied on Supreme Court orders stating the norm of merit must prevail. To the question that whether the best-of-five rule gave SSC students an unfair advantage, the high court said: “The answer obviously is in the affirmative.”