TN fails to push its reservation policy in Centre’s courses at state varsities

The Madras High Court has asked Anna University to follow the Centre's reservation policy of 49.5% instead of the state's 69% for admitting students to two centrally funded M Tech courses

A recent Madras High Court order in an academic case that favours the Centre has again underscored the lackadaisical attitude of the Tamil Nadu government in implementing its state reservation policy.

In a case involving the admission of students to two centrally funded M Tech courses at Anna University, the court has directed the university to follow the Centre’s reservation policy of 49.5%. The order was passed on Friday (February 19).

In the backdrop of the Centre’s efforts to allegedly sabotage the state reservation policy, this case raises a pertinent and important question. Should the state reservation policy be followed in centrally funded courses?

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The Background

The M Tech in Biotechnology and M Tech in Computational Biology are funded by the Centre’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and they are being taught at Anna University in Chennai from the year 1987 and 2014, respectively. Both the courses together admit 45 students every year. However, the number of seats tend to vary depending on the seats for DBT. While the biotechnology students get ₹12,000 every month as stipend, the students of computational biology are paid ₹12,500.

Also read: Tamil Nadu govt is against NEET: Education Minister Sengottiyan

Till last year, the admissions to these courses were made based on an all-India entrance exam conducted by Jawaharlal Nehru University, for biotechnology, and Pondicherry University, for computational biology. And, the Centre’s reservation policy of 49.5 % has been followed for admissions to these courses, instead of the 69% ordered by the state government.

This year, in the backdrop of COVID-19, these courses became highly popular among  students. Due to the pandemic, the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), another central institute, conducted the common entrance called Graduate Aptitude Test — Biotechnology for both the courses. However, instead of carrying out the admission process by itself, the RCB entrusted this task to the respective institutions.

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This led to a lot a confusion particularly over the implementation of the reservation policy. When Anna University, a state university, administers the admissions, it must follow the 69% reservation rule, like the University does for its engineering courses. The University Grants Commission (UGC), too, has directed the state universities to adhere to the state government policy in reservation. But, the DBT has insisted that the university should stick to the Centre’s reservation policy since the courses are funded by the Centre.

To complicate the issue, the university cancelled the two courses on January 30 through an announcement on its website. According to All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the admissions to these courses should have been completed before December 31, 2020. Due to the delay, the candidates lost the opportunity of joining other institutions as well. Enraged, they approached the court.

The hearings

When the case came up for hearing on February 3, the court sought a reason from the university for the cancellation and gave it a day to provide the reason. The next day, the court granted more time for the university to work out a solution and posted the case for hearing to February 8.

On that date, the university told the court that it will conduct the courses this year by creating nine supernumerary seats but cannot provide stipend for those nine students. However, the Centre will pay the stipend to the students admitted under the 49.5% reservation policy.

The university was, however, asked to get AICTE’s approval on this and the case was posted to February 12. At the next hearing, the court learnt that the AICTE has not accepted this proposal stating that the deadline for admissions was over. The court then suggested that either the university or the Tamil Nadu government approach Supreme Court seeking an extension period for the admissions.

Also read: Madras High Court decries excessive fee charged by NEET coaching centres

On February 15, the state argued in court that AICTE has no role to play in this matter. But the Centre argued that the centrally funded courses taught in other universities in Tamil Nadu follow the 49.5% reservation. To which, the court made an observation that the Centre should not demand that universities subscribe to the 49.5% because they are funding the courses.

The Court maintained that when state universities are conducting the admissions, they should be allowed to follow the state reservation policy.

Finally, the court passed an order on Friday, ruling that this year, too, the Centre should take the responsibility of admitting the students and implement a 49.5% reservation. It is to be noted that several universities in the country, including Anna University, have entered into an agreement with the Centre that they will follow the Centre’s reservation in centrally funded courses.

This case has again highlighted the failure of the Tamil Nadu government to claim its rights.

“When the university had powers to implement the state reservation policy, it should have done it. But, the vice-chancellor instead stopped the courses. It was the students who approached the court. The government should have pro-actively moved the case, but it looks like the government could not deal with a vice-chancellor,” said an advocate closely involved in the case.

Meanwhile, reservation activist G Karunanidhi said the order will set a wrong precedent.

“There is a possibility that the Centre can fund more such programmes and courses, and can demand that the state universities should follow the 49.5% reservation, instead of  69%. The Tamil Nadu government should have come forward and said that it will fund these courses and implement 69% reservation. But, that did not happen. This government won’t do it,” said Karunanidhi.

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