The court also refused to stay its decision to enable the government to file an appeal. Minister Varsha Gaikwad said the government would take further decision after studying the order. The government decided to hold a physical CET as Class 10 board exams had not been held. But the parents of some students from CBSE, ICSE and IGCSE boards complained that it would be discriminatory, as the test would be based on the state board’s syllabus.
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“The state government does not have the power under law to issue such a notification and this court can intervene in an extreme case of gross injustice, such as this,” a division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and R I Chagla said.
“If this CET examination is allowed to be held in this manner at this stage, it will cause gross injustice to all the students including those who have passed Class ten from the SSC board. There is no reasonable nexus in introducing such CET examination in such an illegal manner,” the court said in its judgment.
Further, the state government could not give “convincing reasons” as to what purpose the CET would serve, “more particularly in this pandemic situation”,” the court said. The government’s decision that the students who appear for the CET would be given a priority in Class 11 admissions was “arbitrary, unreasonable, harsh, discriminatory, capricious and in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution (which guarantees right to equality),” it said. “The right to get admission in the First Year Junior College granted to the students passing Xth examination from other Boards cannot be taken away by imposing a condition which would treat them unequally with the students having passed Xth examination from SSC (state) Board,” the court said. Even if a petition challenging the CET had not been filed, this would have been a fit case for the court to take suo motu (on its own) notice, the judges said.
“Since, such action of the State Government would affect the right to life of a large number of students, Court cannot be a mute spectator…,” the HC said, noting that a physical examination would mean a large number of persons including students who are not yet vaccinated coming together, which could “potentially trigger the spread of the deadly infection.” “A large number of minor students who are more susceptible to the pandemic would be forced to expose their life to a big risk which would be in gross violation of their right to life. It would have a serious cascading effect. Life is more important than the choice of the students to get admission in a preferred college,” the bench said. The court thus quashed and set aside the May 28 notification announcing the CET. As per the notification, those unwilling to appear for the test would be admitted to Class 11 on the basis of an aggregate of Class 10 marks. The high court directed the state government to start the admission process for Class 11 on the basis of Class 10 marks and internal assessment scores of students. The admission process should be completed within six weeks, it added. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, the state government’s lawyer, requested the court to stay the order so that the government could file an appeal.
The court said it was not inclined to do so as the issue involved the right to life of lakhs of students.
Ananya Patki, a student of a Mumbai school affiliated to the ICSE board, had challenged the CET. Four IGCSE board students had also filed intervention petitions. The petitions claimed that the CET would be discriminatory, as it would be based on the Maharashtra government’s Secondary School Certificate (SSC) syllabus. Advocate General Kumbhakoni had told the court that all the students would get admission to Class 11, but those who want colleges of their choice must take the CET. Advocate Yogesh Patki, the petitioner’s father, contended that the decision was taken in a haphazard manner and the exam date was announced at a short notice, on July 19.
This violated Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life) as lakhs of non-vaccinated students in the 15-16 age group would have to appear for the offline test, he said.
Kumbhakoni had pointed out that the CET was not mandatory, and in any case, all safety norms would be followed while conducting it.
Around 10.75 lakh students had registered for the CET, including a large number of CBSE school students, he said. School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad said the government will decide the next course of action after studying the HC order.
“The decision to hold CET was taken to minimize the educational loss of students. Last year students had suffered an educational loss. We will study the high court’s decision and take action accordingly,” she told reporters. Reacting to the court’s ruling, Vilas Parab, a teacher, said it was disappointing. Many schools gave very high internal assessment scores to their students which inflated the overall scorecards, and the cancellation of the CET may lead to deserving students failing to get into good colleges, he said.