The Congress government in Karnataka has recently notified the Karnataka Professional Education Act 2006 (PDF – as notified sourced from COMED-K). Tragically, this is receiving little or no commentary in the media despite its groundbreaking nature. In this blog, I hope to throw some light on why you need to pay attention to this.
First a little background.
In India, professional colleges typically refer to the three disciplines of Medical, Dental, and Engineering. When it comes to private professional colleges, there is a long history to the tug of war between government regulation and autonomy of the management of these colleges. In 2005, most issues came to a settlement after a lengthy legal fumble with the 7-Judge bench deciding P.A Inamdar vs State of Maharashtra. In that judgment, it was clarified that the state could not impose its reservation policy on private education – both minority and non-minority. The political class could not stomach that as regulating access to a small pie of educational opportunities is a powerful tool to distribute benefits to this or that faction. The Congress led UPA-1 govt under the then HRD Minister Mr Arjun Singh moved the 104th Amendment bill that was passed and eventually became the 93rd Amendment to the constitution.
The 93rd Amendment added the following to Article 15.
“(5) Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30.”.
Let me break it down. The non-minorities were offered parity with the minorities under TMA Pai, then Inamdar under Article 19 (1) (g) which says “anyone can conduct any profession, trade, or business”. The 93rd amendment cancels all three judgments (Pai, Islamic Academy, Inamdar) and once again restores minority institutions to a higher pedestal by severely curtailing protections under Art 19 (1) (g). The 93rd Amendment was challenged along with the OBC Quota in Ashok Kumar Thakur vs Union of India in 2007. The court held that the 93rd amendment was not in conflict with the Basic Structure insofar as it applies to Govt educational institutions. It did not strike down the part where it applied to private unaided institutions and instead punted it for a future court. It was understood that the 93rd Amendment could be reopened for challenge once a state actually passes a law.
This month Karnataka notified exactly such a law.
The Karnataka Professional Education Regulation Act 2006
The substantive parts of this act are :
- No govt quota seats in any private institution.
- Unaided Non-Minority must provide 50% quota along Karnataka government lines. SC / ST / OBC (5 subgroups)
- Unaided Minority need not provide SC/ST/OBC quota but must ensure 66% of seats are allocated to that minority group that runs the college
- No upper limit to fees. Each college can set fees according to its location, infrastructure, quality etc. A 2-Judge panel will nail complaints of exorbitant fees.
- A 15% NRI ( or NRI sponsor quota) is allowed even encouraged for purposes of cross subsidization
- Only two entrance tests are envisioned. CET for govt colleges and COMED-K which is an all India test for private colleges. Things are still up in the air as minority colleges want their own test. But this is the rough formula.
To understand the impact of this – you need to understand how the system works today. Roughly this is the arrangement in place for the past few years.
- Private colleges surrender a number of seats to the government – approx 40% – this is called the government quota
- The govt fills the 40% using the usual scheme of 50% quota from the merit list from a government exam.
- This 40% is highly subsidized – as they only pay fees as applicable in government colleges.
- In the balance 60% – the management can do anything they want under conditions of transparency. They are allowed a 15% NRI quota with typically high fees to make up for the Govt quota + the management quota.
Impact on poor
First thing to note is Karnataka is no exception to other states. Quality government college capacity is severely lacking. In the old scheme, the effective govt capacity was Govt Colleges + Sum of all 40% seats in all private colleges. To quantify the mismatch consider the fact that Karnataka as 42 Private Medical colleges and only 11 Government ones. On the Engineering side there are roughly 200 private colleges and only 12 Govt colleges. So if you are a poor student in Karnataka today – the number of seats you can aim for based on affordability is dramatically reduced. What they’ve done is replaced a regime of affordable seats and converting it into a “social justice” quota. It goes without saying that from next year, private colleges will hike all fees to even out the disparities that have now disappeared.
Impact on Karnataka OBC/SC/ST
After this new law, OBC/SC/ST candidates will be able to exclusively access a huge number of extra seats – albeit at a higher cost. Under the new regime – all private non-minority colleges must reserve 50% of total capacity to OBC/SC/ST students from Karnataka. Note that in the previous regime 40% was taken by the govt and given in the ration 20% under quota to OBC/SC/ST from Karnataka and remaining to open category from Karnataka. After this act the number of seats more than doubles ( from 20% of total private non-minority capacity to 50% of private capacity) . The government is also refunding all fees for certain categories. So overall, this new scheme is a win for reserved categories who can afford these seats.
Impact on Karnataka Unreserved category
This group will be hit hardest. In my view, the impact can be so severe that a legal challenge to the entire scheme is called for. Let me explain. In the old scheme, under the 40% Govt quota – Karnataka based open category students could compete with each other for 20%.
Under the new scheme, Karnataka OBC/SC/ST have dramatically increased their share from 20% to 50% where they compete only with other Karnataka students of the respective category. However, the Karnataka Open Category is left in the lurch – they are clubbed with the remaining 50% who have to compete in an All India Exam like COMED-K with highly trained students from states like AP. To this add the 15% NRI quota – which further reduces the pie that is up for grabs to 35%.
Now if you are a unreserved poor students – the hit will be severe and the only seats affordable and accessible to you are the seats in government colleges. In addition to this, the unreserved category students aren’t necessarily topping the exams either. If youve been reading this blog you’d know these arent classifications based on monitoring or presence of disabilities. I’ve documented the extreme case of 2013 Tamilnadu Medical Admissions here.
Impact on Minorities
Under the new act, private minority colleges must reserve 66% of all seats to students from their group. This is an extremely welcome decision which will hopefully reverberate all over. Both linguistic and religious minority institutions today are asserting protections under Art 30 without any connection to serving their communities. Other than this, they are under no obligation for providing any other kind of quota. One institute that might be impacted is Manipal University which, under this law could be forced to admit 66% Konkani native speakers !! I’ve always maintained that the whole Article 30 protection regime needs a principled look. It is unacceptable that speakers of Tamil or Telugu are able to run normal secular colleges from a higher platform. We are still waiting for a court with chops to undertake this most important exercise.
Those who follow me on twitter @realitycheckind know that I consider this to be the most abominable form of quota ever. Under the NRI or NRI Sponsored Quota – if a brother/sister/father/uncle/aunt is able to foot your bill from overseas – you leapfrog over an ocean of native Indians who have no such luck. The quota is not minor but rather 15% of total intake. If it is cross subsidy you seek than it should be open to all rich kids not just who are lucky enough not to be working in India. The NRI quota has no place in a civilized country and must be abolished.