A compromise in Karnataka

Published : Oct 10, 2003 00:00 IST

The State government and the private professional colleges decide to retain their old quotas despite the Supreme Court's directive to share seats equally, in what is seen as an attempt to cover up questionable admissions.

in Bangalore

A COMPROMISE between the Karnataka government and the managements of private unaided professional colleges in the State over the sharing of seats (75 per cent for the government and 25 per cent for the latter) has settled, at least for now, the controversy over admissions to these colleges for the academic year 2003-04. But in doing so, each side chose to turn a blind eye to the other's non-compliance with the Supreme Court's August 14 directive.

The quid pro quo saved the government the embarrassment of cancelling admissions made over and above the seats allotted to it under the Supreme Court order, did away with the need for a fresh seat selection process and going through a revised seat matrix based on the government's Common Entrance Test (CET), and avoided inconveniencing some students who would otherwise have had to give up colleges of their choice. But most of all, it gave legality to the admissions made by private managements in violation of the apex court's orders.

Karnataka's Higher Education Minister Dr G. Parameshwara, who is associated with the running of private educational institutions, justified the compromise, which he termed an "adjustment or manipulation", on the grounds that the Karnataka government was able to corner an extra 25 per cent of the seats, something that no other State government had so far been able to do.

Students who did not take the CET or did not perform well in it are sore that the government did not force the managements - as per the directions of the court - to conduct an entrance examination and draw up a merit list, which would have been the basis for 50 per cent of the admissions.

On August 14, a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court directed that seats in private professional colleges should be shared equally among the government and the private managements. It also directed the managements to fill up their share of seats through a CET conducted either by an association of similarly configured institutions (say, medical colleges coming under one umbrella), or by the State. Institutions that had been conducting their own admission procedures for at least 25 years were exempted from this procedure. But it asked all colleges to ensure that every admission was on the basis of inter-se merit of the candidates. The Bench passed the orders while providing a legal interpretation to the judgment rendered on October 31, 2002, by an 11-Judge Bench in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation case.

The August 14 judgment also specified that while managements "must be able to generate surplus which must be used for the betterment and growth of that educational institution" and while each institution is entitled to have its own fee structure, "there can be no profiteering and capitation fees cannot be charged". The order also stated that a committee headed by a retired High Court judge should be constituted to scrutinise the proposed fee structure of unaided educational institutions. The fee structure could come up for review once in three years.

BUT even before the Supreme Court verdict came, the Karnataka government, acting on the basis of a June 30 interim order of the Karnataka High Court, had started counselling for up to 75 per cent of the seats in the private professional colleges. Most private managements too had filled up what they perceived to be their 25 per cent quota, collecting as fees amounts far in excess of the prescribed limit. Many institutions took the entire course fee in advance, in violation of the Supreme Court's orders.

According to informed sources, merit was given the go-by and what mattered, especially in the case of medical and dental seats, was a student's ability to pay. Medical seats in top-notch colleges went for between Rs.25 lakhs and Rs.30 lakhs. Seats in reputed engineering colleges in Bangalore, especially in branches like Information Technology, computer science, and electronics and communications, were `given' for up to Rs.9 lakhs (the amount being the fee for the four-year course). Neither was any examination conducted nor was the student's CET ranking taken into account. Some candidates had secured seats through the management quota without even sitting for the CET.

Academics pointed out that under the apex court's August 14 orders all admissions made by the private managements without taking merit into consideration should be made null and void by the government. But the State government is not thinking on these lines. Neither is it of the view that its `deal' with the managements over seat-sharing in the ratio of 75:25 is in contempt of the Supreme Court's order. Said Parameshwara: "The fact that we have taken 75 per cent of the seats is not contempt. They (managements) have given us 25 per cent of their share for this year since they said that they did not have the time to conduct their own CET. This was done in the larger interest of the students. A number of non-Karnataka students have benefited after we increased our share to 75 per cent. If after our (State) counselling some seats are left over in the 25 per cent that was handed over to us, the managements can have them back for allotment."

Parameshwara confessed that while the managements could have insisted on retaining 50 per cent of the seats, they were afraid that taking on the government would have made their own admissions (illegitimate) shaky. He also said the universities concerned would examine what test/criteria had been used by private managements to allot seats.

On September 18, the government admitted during arguments in the Karnataka High Court that it had agreed to surrender vacant government seats to private managements after completion of admission rounds at the CET counselling cell. As a result, candidates who had failed to report to their allotted colleges in time or those who had not been allotted seats in the initial process would not be able to participate and secure seats via the casual vacancy round, where unfilled seats and seats from new colleges are allotted, since the managements would be in possession of the seats.

Karnataka Advocate-General A.N. Jayaram told the Court that this surrender was the "price" paid to the managements to get them to agree to the State's request for a 75:25 seat sharing formula instead of the 50:50 formula as directed by the Supreme Court. Jayaram also said that if the government violated the agreement it would lead to further litigation by the managements.

The High Court, however, passed an interim order on September 19 directing that all eligible students were entitled to take part in the casual vacancy round and that seats should be allotted to them, subject to the final disposing of of the case. Jayaram was of the view that the unfilled seats after the casual vacancy round could then be handed over to the managements.

Congress Member of Parliament R.L. Jalappa, who also manages professional colleges, denied that the government was in contempt of the Supreme Court. He said that even before the Supreme Court verdict came the government had gone through with the counselling and even made allotments in excess of the 50 per cent set by the Supreme Court. "This was despite the fact that we had written to the government not to allot seats during the duration of the case. If we had insisted on taking our entire 50 per cent of seats, the government would have been embarrassed. As a one-time measure we have given the government 25 per cent of our seats. This is not contempt," he said. Jalappa, whose colleges form part of the Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges - Karnataka (Comed-K), claimed that managements like his had admitted students on the basis of an examination they conducted.

Jayaram opined that the government's decision to allot 75 per cent of the seats did not constitute contempt of court. He told Frontline that since the government had already conducted its CET and commenced counselling for up to 75 per cent of the seats, restricting itself to 50 per cent would have meant that the CET, which 1.3 lakh students had written, would have to be conducted afresh, putting the students to a lot of hardship.

Said Jayaram: "We requested the managements and they agreed. Legally speaking, no one can go against the (Supreme) Court order. The 25 per cent of management seats that the government is filling up is only on the basis of the CET rankings. All that is being done is that the managements have agreed to pick up 25 per cent of their quota through the CET ranking list. And this is being done by the government."

Jayaram was, however, noncommittal when asked if he knew on what basis the managements had filled up the remaining 25 per cent of their seats. "That is for them to explain to the Court," he said.

According to Professor M.R. Doreswamy, chairman of the PES Institutions, the 25 per cent seats that the government now had in excess of the court-directed 50 per cent were given to the government only at the request of the Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna and other Ministers. "The reason was that counselling had been done by the government for nearly 75 per cent of the seats and a new selection process would have caused inconvenience to the students. It would have become very cumbersome." Doreswamy, while conceding that merit may not have been the sole criterion for admission, said it was equally true that the managements had offered 75 per cent of the seats to the government in the larger interest of the student community.

According to Jalappa, who claimed to be reflecting the view of most Comed-K members, the fees fixed by the government on the basis of the June 30 Karnataka High Court Order for the 2003-04 academic year - medical (Rs 1.9 lakhs), dental (Rs.1.10 lakhs) and engineering courses (Rs.36,000) - were insufficient. The managements have agreed to the government-prescribed fee only for the 2003-04 academic year.

Doreswamy said cost should be the sole criterion in fixing the fee and, as the court had directed, "the fee structure for each institute must be fixed keeping in mind the infrastructure and the facilities available, the investments made, the salaries paid to the teachers and other staff, future plans for expansion and/or betterment of the institution". Managements are also crying themselves hoarse over the court's ruling that institutions can collect "a reasonable surplus" to meet development expenses. Some managements interpret this "reasonable surplus" as around 10 per cent of the annual fee.

At the same time the court has forbidden the collection of money either directly or indirectly over and above the amount fixed as fees. But colleges have observed the direction more in the breach. Many engineering colleges in Bangalore have taken amounts upwards of Rs.1.5 lakhs (over and above the Rs.36,000 annual fee), some even giving receipts stating that the amount was a "developmental fee". A medical college in Bijapur, which admits around 150 students every year, is said to have collected Rs.2.5 lakhs from each student as annual fee, which is around Rs.50,000 above the prescribed government fee. The moot question is whether such amounts constitute a "reasonable surplus" or whether they are capitation fee in another form. Not surprisingly, many private managements do not provide receipts for the amounts collected.

According to academics, though Karnataka passed the Prohibition of Capitation Fee Act in 1984, none of the private managements has respected the Act in letter or spirit. This is hardly surprising as many in the political class, including Ministers and legislators of all political hues, are connected with the running of private professional institutions.

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