Dr. Pradeep Jain Etc. v. Union of India & Ors.

Read this 5-minute case analysis which was among the many Supreme Court judgments regarding the topic of reservation. In this particular case, the reservation in medical courses on bases of 'domicile' was questioned.
CITATION1984 AIR 1420
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice P.N. Bhagwati
DATE OF JUDGEMENT22.06.1984

Introduction

This case of 1984 addressed the pertinent subject of reservations in admission procedures to undergraduate and postgraduate colleges. The genesis of the reservation system began almost immediately after India attained its independence with initiatives that were brought about to protect Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The present case looks into the equalizing provisions of the Constitution and analyses, in tandem, the constitutionality of the reservation system based on domicile with special reference to medical undergraduate and postgraduate colleges.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The Appellant along with the other petitioners sought admission into MBBS, MD, BDS and MDS colleges but were met with the obstacle in the form of a residential prerequisite. The parties have challenged this prerequisite as violative of Constitutional provisions.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not denial of admission was violative of their Constitutional rights.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The bench looked into the history of India initially and how it was not created on the basis of one common language or political regime but due to common culture that had developed over the centuries. They reiterated and emphasized that India recognizes only one kind of citizenship i.e. Indian citizenship, even though it was a union of states.

The bench analyzed and applied Articles 14, 15, 16, and 19 of the Constitution in the present case to decide the constitutionality of domiciled based reservation. It pointed out that though Article 15 (1) and (2) bars discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth, Article 16 (2) further provides that there should be no discrimination on religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence in state employment. But, Article 16 (3) provides an exception to this rule by laying down that Parliament may make a law “prescribing in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to any office under the government of, or any local or other authority, in a state or union territory, any requirement as to residence within that state or union territory prior to such employment. “The case of D.P. Joshi v. State of Madhya Bharat[1]was cited where a distinction was made between residence and place of birth where both were “two distinct conceptions with different connotations both in law and in fact.”

The judgment also went into a detailed analysis of the term ‘domicile’ referencing Halsbury’s definition of the term – “Domicile is the legal relationship between an individual and a territory with a distinctive legal system that invokes that system as his personal law.” However, the Court lay down that under Article 5 of the Constitution, there is explicitly only one domicile i.e. domicile in the territory of India.

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The Court thus emphasized that the only provision of the Constitution on the touch-stone of which such residence requirement can be required to be tested is Article 14 and that was precisely the contention to be considered in the present petitions. It observed that the primary imperative of Article 14 is equal opportunity for all across the nation for education and advancement and thus the domicile prerequisite is a complex issue involving consideration of varying social and economic factors and calls for a balanced and harmonious adjustment of competing interests.

The Court discussed what kind of ‘merit’ is involved the selection process and concluded that it consists of a high degree of intelligence coupled with a keen and incisive mind, sound knowledge of the basic subjects and infinite capacity for hard work, in addition to a sense of social commitment and dedication to the cause of the poor. 

The 2 theories as to when departure from the principle of selection based on merit is justified is –

  1. When there is state interest;
  2. When there is a region’s claim of backwardness.

The Court previously, in the case of Minor P. Rajendran v. State of Madras[2] struck down a rule made by the State of Madras allocating seats in medical colleges on district wise basis. In Peeriakaruppan v. State of Tamil Nadu[3], the same consideration prevailed with the Court in striking down the unit wise scheme of selection of candidates for admission to medical colleges in the State of Tamil Nadu for the year 1970-71.

The Court agreed with Justice Krishna Iyer in his judgment in Jagdish Saran v. UOI &Ors[4] where he focused on the principle that departure from merit can be justified only on equality-oriented grounds. Whatever is the process of selection that deviates from merit, it has to pass the test of equality.

The Court finally held that with respect to MBBS college admissions they unequivocally condemned wholesale reservation made by some of the State Governments on the basis of ‘domicile’ or residence requirement within the State, regardless of merit and declared it void and unconstitutional as per Article 14 of the constitution. However, the extent to which it would be permissible could not be laid down. With respect to postgraduate courses (like MD, MS, MDS) the Court held that it would be desirable not to provide for any reservation based on residence requirement within the State or on institutional preference.

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Analysis

Taking into consideration judicial precedent and the various provisions of the Constitution, the Court was correct in its decision to condemn the wholesale reservation on the basis of domicile and in calling for strict avoidance of such reservation in postgraduate admissions. The Court rightly upheld the basic principles of equality enshrined in the Constitution but also took into account the needs of the deprived classes of society.

The Court allowed for domicile reservation within reasonable limits for admissions but emphasized that what would be “reasonable and permissible” cannot be measured categorically and it would depend on several factors like opportunities for professional education in that particular area, the extent of competition, level of education, the extent of competition, level of educational development of the area and various other factors. Where such a decision is consistent with government policy there is also a danger that it might be misused due to ambiguity in how many seats exactly should be reserved on the basis of domicile.

In a 2014 case,[5] the Court relied on this present case and the Supreme Court declared domiciliary requirements in state government medical and dental colleges as well as in the state quota in private medical and dental colleges to be ultra vires of Article 14 of the Constitution since candidates for admission to post graduate courses in medical and dental colleges in Karnataka challenged the state government’s requirement that only candidates of “Karnataka origin” were eligible to apply for these courses through the state quota.

Conclusion

As the Court observed in this case, the reservation system has assumed considerable significance in the present day context and the country’s unity and integrity is continuously threatened with forces of communalism, regionalism and various other loyalties. The judiciary has to do its best to tread carefully in such situations taking into account different wants and needs of our diverse country but also take a strong stand on pertinent issues as such to uphold fundamental concepts.

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[1] 1955 AIR 334.

[2] 1968 AIR 1012.

[3] 1971 AIR 2303.

[4] 1980 AIR 820.

[5] Vishal Goyal & Ors.v. State of Karnataka & Ors, WP (Civil) No. 48, 2014.