JNU Admission Row: Delhi HC scraps 100% viva, upholds reservation and says no to seat cuts

In a huge victory for students, the Delhi High Court has passed a landmark judgment doing away with many discriminatory and arbitrary practices dealing with the admission process for M.Phil and Ph.D students. The court was hearing a petition filed by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) challenging the 100 percent reliance on performance during a viva exam, the impact of arbitrary practices on the admission prospects of students from SC/ST/OBC backgrounds as well as the proposed seat cuts at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).  

In a sensitive and unambiguously student friendly judgement the Delhi High Court tackled all three matters with great wisdom and dignity. On the subject of 100 per cent weightage to the viva exam, the court observed, “In the opinion of this court, the entire weightage to performance of a candidate in the interview, or viva voce, based on the evaluation of the “power point” presentation affords the widest latitude to arbitrary and capricious behaviour of the members of the board, who know that the fate of admission hangs in their hands. Discretion, wherever allowed, is to be minimized; more so when it concerns admission to academic institutions. Academics are no doubt brilliant in their fields; however they are not immune to baser tendencies, such as unconscious bias (subject matter, mannerisms, perceived lack of respect, etc). This can tend to cloud their wisdom and conferring the exclusive power to admit a student at M.Phil./Ph.D. levels would therefore be arbitrary.”

The court ruled, “That Regulation 5.4 of the UGC Regulations in so far as it permits filling of M.Phil./Ph.D. entirely on the basis of cent percent evaluation of performance in the viva voce process is arbitrary. The said regulation is, therefore, declared void and contrary to Article 14.”

The court was also mindful of the impact of the over emphasis on the viva exam on students from SC/ST and other reserved categories. It observed, “Given the pattern of admission and the procedure adopted where 100% or entire weightage is given to the interview process, the possibility of bias and also adverse impact to SC/ST and other reserved category candidates is palpable and real. Having regard to these facts, the Court is of the opinion that the JNU and UGC ought to have worked out a criteria to give some concession to SC/ST category candidates – and to the extent permissible under the Rules, to the OBC category candidates. The same considerations would also apply to persons with disabilities (PWD) candidates for whom a 5% reservation is statutorily mandated.”

Thus upholding constitutionally mandated reservations in admissions the court ruled, “The absence of any concession with respect to the minimum qualifying marks in the written test, in the UGC Regulations of 2016 to reserved category candidates (SC/ST/OBC) and physically disabled candidates is also without proper application of mind. Appropriate concession is to be given by the UGC and the JNU, taking into account the seats filled, having regard to the implementation of the regulations in the last two academic years.”

Finally on the contentious issue of seat cuts the court studied the statistics of existing seats, faculty strength and capacity and observed that 657 seats (221 M.Phil. and 436 Ph.D.) vacancies existed. The court went on to state, “…the JNU, in implementing the UGC Regulations, 2016 has either deliberately or on account of wrong implementation, left unfilled a substantial number of (about 657 M.Phil. and Ph.D. seats). In the opinion of this Court, this is not healthy; it amounts to a national waste and requires to be redressed appropriately.”

In light of this the court ruled, “The JNU is directed to take suitable review action to ensure that in any given academic year, no M.Phil./Ph.D. seat is left unfilled.”

The entire judgment may be read here:


The Students Federation of India (SFI) has welcomed the judgement saying, “This judgement has come at a juncture when the RSS-BJP led government tried their best to trample upon the reservation policy and prepare a ground to eliminate the students from the marginalised section from accessing higher education. SFI pledges to take the struggles for social justice forward with rigour and ensure that equal and affordable education remains open and accessible for all.”

The JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) has also welcomed the judgement. In press statement JNUTA said, “JNUTA has consistently argued that the seat cuts in JNU in 2017 and 2018 were in violation of the CEI Act and that the 100% viva voce and uniform eligibility marks without concessions to marginalized communities were unfair, discriminatory, and antithetical to social justice. JNUTA stands vindicated on all these points by the Delhi High Court’s judgment.” It further added, “The Court has upbraided JNU for its ‘lack of application of mind‘, and stated that ‘the materials placed on record as well as the pleadings of both the JNU and UGC do not anywhere show that an expert Committee had determined whether the change in the criteria, could impact reserved category candidates adversely.’ Such a Committee was a consistent demand that JNU teachers through JNUTA and Centres/Schools made, but was ignored.” JNUTA has now urged the JNU administration to stop arbitrary and discriminatory practices in the admissions process and to implement the Delhi High Court’s orders in toto.



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