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Farzana Batool v/s Union Of India

Summary
The Supreme Court of India ruled in Farzana Batool vs. Union of India and Others that the government has an affirmative obligation to facilitate access to education at all levels. In this case, two petitioners, Ms. Farzana Batool and Mr. Mohammad Mehdi Waziri filed a petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, which talks about the Right to Constitution remedy, i.e. whereby an individual can seek redress for a violation of Fundamental Rights, in order to facilitate their admission to Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC) and Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), respectively, to pursue an MBBS

Farzana Batool v. union of India (UOI), and Ors. - Citation - Writ Petition (Civil) No 364 of 2021 With Writ Petition (Civil) No 375 of 2021
Date of judgment - 9th April 2021 - Bench - Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J - Supreme court case

Facts of the case
Two students from Ladakh have started these actions under Article 32. They have been nominated by the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh for admission to the MBBS degree programme through the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's 'central pool' seats. One of them has been allocated a seat at Lady Hardinge Medical College ("LMHC"). The other has been assigned to Maulana Azad Medical College ("MAMC"). Unfortunately, these students have not yet been admitted to their course of studies despite due nomination by the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh and in terms of the seats notified by the Union Government.

On March 26, 2021, a notice was issued in these proceedings. Mr. Rupinder Singh Suri, Additional Solicitor General, represents the Union of India, while Mr. K M Nataraj, Additional Solicitor General, represents the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh through the Director of Health Services, Ladakh ("DHSL"), appears on behalf of the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh. As per the Office Report, LHMC and MAMC have been served.

The Government of India, through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare ("MHFW"), issued guidelines for the allocation of general pool MBBS/BDS seats for 2020-2021 in a Memorandum dated 9 April 2020. The MHFW (Department of Health and Family Welfare) granted one seat at LHMC to the Union Territory of Ladakh from the central pool in a notification dated November 23, 2020.

At MAMC, a similar one-seat allotment was made. These are the medical seat allocations for the Ladakh central pool for the years 2020-2021.
The DHSL forwarded the list of selected candidates from Ladakh to be accepted in the central pool medical seats for the year 2020-2021 via a communication dated 19 February 2021 issued by the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh.[i]

Ratio decidendi
Education at the professional level has not been spelled out as a fundamental right in part III of the Indian Constitution with talks about Articles 14,15 and 16.

It is important to note that access to higher education is not a matter of government liberality. Instead, the state has a positive obligation to encourage access to education at all levels, and financial hardship should not prevent students from receiving admission in accordance with the allocation made in their favor.

Issues before the court
  1. Whether right to higher education is a fundamental right or not?
  2. Whether access to quality education is infringed on account of caste, class, gender, religion, disability & geographical region?
  3. Whether it is correct to deprive students to pursue professional education even after allocation is made?
  4. Whether accessing higher education as in the professional aspect is indigenous?[ii]
Judgment
In the above case of Farzana Batool v union of India (UOI) and others, the Supreme Court held that:
"While the right to pursue higher (professional) education has not been spelled out as a fundamental right in Part III of the Constitution, it bears emphasis that access to professional education is not a governmental largesse. Instead, the State has an affirmative obligation to facilitate access to education, at all levels." [iii]

As a result, the Supreme Court directed that the petitioners, Ms. Farzana Batool and Mr. Mohammed Mehdi Waziri, complete their admission formalities at Lady Hardinge Medical College ("LHMC") and Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), respectively, within one week of the date of the judgment.

The Supreme Court also stated that all students whose names were mentioned in Annexure A to the notification dated February 19, 2021, should be granted admission to the concerned institutions, if not already done so, and that the court is issuing the order as a general direction to avoid the possibility of each of the similarly placed students being required to come to this court, as education is a fundamental right and is of utmost importance.

Observation of the court
The Supreme Court observed that access to education, though at a professional level, is a severe issue, emphasizing the significance of fostering an enabling environment for students such as the petitioners to pursue professional education. The Supreme Court further said that educational accessibility is even more important for students whose backgrounds, such as caste, class, gender, religion, disability, and geographic location, impose significant barriers in their way of accessing quality education.

The court also stated that since the allocation has been made in favor of the two petitioners, Ms. Farzana Batool and Mr. Mohammed Mehdi Waziri, there is no reason or justification to deny them the benefit of admission to the courses for which the Administration of Ladakh has made an allocation under the 'central pool' seats set aside by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

As a result, the Supreme Court has ordered that the petitioner's admission process be continued and finished within a week of the date of the Supreme Court's order. The Supreme Court said that "accessibility" is one of the key aspects in any education ecosystem, which applies to all levels of education, citing notes from the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR Committee) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was further clarified that 'accessibility' in terms of 'education would mean '"accessible to all on the basis of merit" and the need to take affirmative steps to make sure that "financial constraints do not come in the way of accessing education".

Conclusion
In conclusion, the Supreme Court ordered that the petitioners be admitted to LHMC and MAMC as soon as possible, based on their nomination, and that the admission process be completed within a week of the date of the judgment. In addition, the court ordered that the 7 other students who had been nominated and allotted Central Pool seats as per the Ladakh UT Administration's notification of February 19, 2021, be admitted to the respective nominated institutions.

By issuing this judgment, the court not only helps the students in gaining admission to the college to which they were assigned by the central pool, but it also sets an example for the society that education is important to all students, and that the court recognizes this importance and has rendered a fair judgment and provided justice to not only the two students who filed the petition but also to all other students who were facing the same problem. It is our moral responsibility to give students their basic right to education in order to build a solid educational system since they are our future.

End-Notes:
  1. https://7026ded4-abca-4ec3-8a44-983b7ec3231a.usrfiles.com/ugd/7026de_1796a892961247b298f4cbf8b996db70.pdf
  2. https://lawessential.com/m%26a-deals-%26-cases-archive/f/farzana-batool-v-union-of-india-uoi-and-ors
  3. https://www.edulegal.org/blog/right-to-higher-education-not-fundamental-right/

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