A student losing a hard-won seat due to technical glitches cannot be considered as just and fair.
The appellant in this case,[i] Prince Jaibir Singh took the JEE Main examination in May 2021, and being qualified for the next round (JEE Advanced) he appeared for it in October 2021. As he belonged to the Scheduled Caste category and had an All India Rank of 864 under the same, he secured a seat in the civil engineering degree course at IIT Bombay. The appellant logged into the JoSSA[ii] website two days prior to the last date, where he was supposed to submit relevant documents and make the payment to secure his seat. He could not pay the acceptance fees on the same date as he was short of funds.
He arranged for the fees a day before the last date and made numerous attempts to pay the fees through the portal. This was not successful due to technical glitches and errors in the portal. The appellant tried to pay the acceptance fees on the last date from a cyber café, where he faced the same technical problems. He made attempts to contact the respective authority through several mails which were not acknowledged due to which he physically visited the authority but they could not help him.
Therefore, he moved the Bombay High Court under Article 226, requesting a writ that permits him to pay the acceptance fees and to advance the admission. According to Article 226, High Courts have the power to issue appropriate writs. The case was opposed by advocates representing the ministry of education at the Bombay High Court, who pointed out that the admission procedure is computerised and that failure to pay the acceptance fee on time results in rejection of the given seat. Following this failure in the High Court, the appellant moved the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court recognised the difficulties the student faced as a result of the occurrence. The student, who was based in Uttar Pradesh, borrowed money to travel to the second respondent's (JoSAA) office in Kharagpur. The court believed it would be a miscarriage of justice if the student was denied a seat simply because he had not paid the fee. "There needs to be some methodology," Justice DY Chandrachud was reported as stating, "otherwise only students from the metropolitan city will join IITs." It was also observed that the Dalit boy missed a seat in one of the best universities in the country for no fault of his. Recognising that it is no easy feat to crack an IIT exam it was stated that the court must sometimes rise above the law and the authorities dictating the terms of payment must be informed about the many issues that could be encountered by students trying to pay their acceptance fees vis online payment methods.
To this, the Joint Seat Allocation Authority replied by stating that the boy’s seat by default was given to another student and therefore, there were no seats remaining to provide to the appellant. The Supreme Court to replied by saying that the institution must not follow a “wooden approach” when it comes to the admission of a student who has fairly won the seat. The institution was instructed to understand the realities of life as not every student’s family has a number of credit cards, or even the funds required to make the payments. The student did not lose the seat due to his own negligence but due to a glitch in the payment portal that was not under his control.
The Supreme Court had instructed the authorities to accommodate the student into the college through another seat, failing to do this would lead to the invocation of Article 142. The authorities failed to do this and conveyed to the court that the Article should be invoked in this particular case as there were many students who had lost their seats due to non-payment of fees and the appellant in this case should be given a supernumerary seat.
The Supreme Court therefore considered it a fit case to invoke Article 142 in an interim stage. According to Article 142:
The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament.
The bench also stated that the Article 142 order will not cause any disruption to any other students who have already been admitted and that the supernumerary seat will be subject to the appellant's admission being regularised if any vacancy occurs as a result of unforeseen circumstances during the admissions process. The judges instructed to the court to make an extra seat for the student in the IIT Bombay institute under the civil engineering degree course. The Supreme Court gave the authorities a period of 48 hours to create the supernumerary seat and also instructed that this allocation of a supernumerary seat should not affect or disturb the admission of any other student.
The Supreme Court in addition to this most importantly stated that they could as well turn down the case taking into account the strict rules that were laid down for the admission process by the JoSAA which the appellant was in fact aware of. But the Court identified the case as a humanitarian matter where the court would have to sometimes rise above the law in order to deliver justice and fairness. It was also assured by the court that this particular order will not be treated as a precedent for other similar cases but it should be an example to the examination and seat allocation authorities to consider the realities of the world and to ensure easier payment options in the future.
[i] Prince Jaibir Singh v. Union of India.
[ii] Joint Seat Allocation Authority.
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