St. Stephen’s College vs University of Delhi is an important judgement in
relation to Article 29(2) and Article 30(1) of the Indian Constitution. The
validity of the admission programme of the college as well as the preference
given to Christian candidates by way of providing the community with 10%
reservation was challenged in the Supreme Court of India. St. Stephen’s college
was founded in 1881, and upon its affiliation to University of Delhi, it became
one of the first three original constituents of the University.
The University communicated a well drafted admission schedule as well as an
admission process for the programmes of BA and B. Com. However, the College
instead of following this schedule and process fixed by the University, fixed
their own schedule and decided they’d be taking an extra round of admissions
consisting of an interview.
The Delhi University Students’ Union filed a complaint and on the basis of this
complaint, a letter dated 9th June 1980 was sent to the Principal of the College
asking them to adhere to the schedule to which the Principal replied stating
that it was too late to make any such changes. In another communication between
the Vice Chancellor of the University and the Vice Chairman of the College, it
was indirectly pointed out that the College would not be conforming to the
circulars of the University.
At first, a writ petition was filed by a student in the High Court of Delhi as
per Article 226, but was later transferred to the Supreme Court pursuant to a
writ petition being filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
The major issues discussed and deliberated upon were:
As per Article 30(1) in The Constitution of India;
- Whether or not the College is run by a minority group?
- Is the College bound by the University's circulars if it is a
- Is the College allowed to set aside seats for Christians, or will this
be in violation of Indian Constitution Article 29(2)?
- All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the
right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice
A particular minority group, namely the Christian community, founded and
administered the College, which was set up as an autonomous institution. Thus,
as a minority institution, it has a distinct character and cannot be held
hostage to the actions of the University when adhering to such actions may
threaten the status of the College as an institution for a minority community.
Article 30(1) also confers the right to administer the educational institutions
established for minorities, and the admission process being an important facet
of the administration shall lie under the autonomous powers of the College, no
matter its affiliation with the University.
The University shall only be
entitled to regulate the administration, but that within reason and as long as
such regulation is conducive for the minority.
As per Article 29(2) in The Constitution of India;
- No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution
maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only
of religion, race, caste, language or any of them
This provision exists to ensure that admission into educational institutions is
not denied because of discrimination on the basis of the aforementioned grounds.
The existence of this provision does NOT contradict the existence of the Article
30(1), which basically is a safeguard to protect the interests of minority
The College is a minority-run institution, and the preference given to the
members of the same minority community cannot be categorised as discrimination
under the purview of Article 29(2). However, the State has the power to regulate
such preference awarded to members of the community by regulating the intake of
students. Such reserved seats cannot surpass 50% seats in one admission year,
and admission to the other communities shall be awarded strictly on the basis of
As a result, the Court decided that St. Stephen's College is a minority-run
institution that is not bound by the University of Delhi's Circulars for matters
that come under its jurisdiction because it has a distinct character and
To summarise, this case aids in identifying the characteristics of a
minority-based organisation, as well as recognising that such institutions have
a relatively independent existence in terms of management, and can only be
interfered with in order to regulate them.