1. This is an appeal from the judgment of Mohan J. declining to admit W. P. 4440 of 1976. The petitioner was a student of Loyola School, Trivandrum and had appeared for an examination conducted by the Council for the Indian Schools Certificate Examination, New Delhi. In the said examination, the petitioner had obtained over 40 per cent of marks in all subjects except Mathematics in which he had secured 35 per cent. The authorities conducting the said examination, issued a certificate to the petitioner stating that he had passed the said examination. The petitioner applied for admission to two institutions, namely, Mar Ivanios College, Trivandrum affiliated to the Kerala University and also to the Scott Christian College, Nagarcoil affiliated to the Madurai University. He got admission first from the College at Trivandrum and he paid the sum of Rs. 175 for the first term fees. Subsequently he got an admission card from the Scott Christian College, Nagarcoil. After getting a transfer certificate from the Mar Ivanios College, Trivandrum, the petitioner joined the Scott Christian College said to be nearer his house, paying a sum of Rs. 200 towards fees etc. He joined the classes and was studying in the said College.
2. On 13-9-1976, a form was taken from the petitioner in which the details relevant for submission to the Madurai University for recognition were recorded. The said form, as the form itself showed had to be submitted through the Principal of the College where the applicant sought admission within 15 days athis admission with evidence of his having passed the examination sought to be recognised and other enclosures mentioned in the application. It is stated in the instructions appended to the said form that pending decision of the application the Principal may admit the applicant provisionally and at the applicant's risk. After more than a month following the submission of the said form to the Madurai University, the Controller of Examinations, Madurai University sent a telegram on 25-10-1976, to the Principal of the Scott Christian College, Nagarcoil, asking him to cancel the admission of the petitioner. The telegram was followed by a letter dated 28-10-1976 from the Controller of Examinations to the Principal. In the said letter after mentioning that the petitioner had obtained only 35 per cent in Mathematics as against 40 per cent required under the relevant rules and after referring to the earlier communications sent to the Principal, it was stated -
'Even then you have admitted the candidate M. K. Jacob to P U C who has not satisfied the above rule, (i.e., he has secured only 35 per cent instead of securing 40 per cent of marks in Mathematics). Hence I am by direction to request you to cancel the admission of the candidate M. K. Jacob to P U C., in your College during 1976-77 immediately under intimation to this office. I am also by direction to inform you that it is irregular on your part to admit candidates of this kind. You should avoid such irregularities in future.'
On receipt of this letter, the Principal who is the second respondent in the writ petition sent a letter to the Controller of Examinations stating that the admission of the petitioner to the Pre-University class was cancelled. On 3-11-1976, the petitioner's father received a letter conveying the cancellation of the admission. Immediately the petitioner's father made representations to the Vice Chancellor of the Madurai University appealing to him to stay the operation of the cancellation of the admission and permit his son to continue his studies pending a decision on the representation made to the Syndicate. The petitioner's father got a letter dated 7-12-1976 in which it was stated that the rules of eligibility do not permit of any deviation. Apparently the authorities of the Madurai University had declined to consider the appeal made by the petitioner'sfather. The further representation also proved unsuccessful.
3. Thereafter the petitioner filed the writ petition in this Court for issue of a writ of mandamus directing the Madurai University and the Principal, Scott Christian College, Nagarcoil, the first and second respondents to the petition, to permit the petitioner to continue his studies in the Pre-University Course in the Scott Christian College, Nagarcoil, and to complete the same and appear for the University examination. It is this writ petition which was dismissed in limine by Mohan J. Against the said judgment, an appeal was preferred and after admission of the appeal, at the instance of this court, the petitioner was granted the necessary card for appearing for the examination and he has passed the examination conducted by the Madurai University in the Pre University class in the second class. The writ appeal has now come before us for final disposal.
4. The learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the respondents were estopped from cancelling the admission which had been unconditionally given to the petitioner in June-July 1976. For the first respondent the submission was that there cannot be an estoppel against statute and the authorities of the Madurai University had acted perfectly bona fide in cancelling the admission as the said admission was contrary to the relevant provisions of the rules governing the admission.
5. The only statutory provision which was relied on for this purpose by the counsel for the University is Section 35 of the Madurai University Act (Madras Act 33 of 1965). That provision runs as follows-
'Admission to University courses: (1) No person shall be admitted to the Pre University course or other entrance courses of study in the University unless he -- (i) has passed the Matriculation examination or (ii) holds the Secondary School Leaving Certificate and has been declared eligible by the Syndicate under conditions prescribed by the University authorities concerned for such course or courses of study; or (iii) has passed, an examination of any other University or authority recognised by the Syndicate as equivalent to the examinations specified in Clause (i) or Clause (ii); and (iv) fulfils such other conditions as, may be prescribed by the Syndicate'.
6. In the list of examinations recognised as equivalent to the MatriculationExamination for purposes of admission tothe Pre-University Course is included the examination now under consideration, and it has been stated as follows-
'The Indian Certificate of Secondary Education Examination (Class X) conducted by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, New Delhi, is accepted as equivalent to the Matriculation examination of this University subject to the condition that candidates should obtain 40 per cent of the marks in the subjects of (1) English language and Literature (2) Mathematics or Modern Mathematics, (3) Sciences (i.e. Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and 35 per cent in the other compulsory subjects and pass the whole examination at one sitting.'
There is no dispute that in the present case, the petitioner has passed the whole examination in one sitting. The only shortcoming pointed out by the University authorities is that he had obtained only 35 per cent in Mathematics as against the minimum of 40 per cent required by the University. It is not in dispute that the regulations framed by the University themselves contemplate the University Authorities granting exemption from the operation of the above rule in appropriate cases. It was in this context that during the pendency of the writ appeal, the University authorities were asked by us to review the cancellation of admission. On the ground that the Vice Chancellor is away from the station, the University authorities have stated that it was not possible to consider the application before the end of August 1977. As the petitioner had already obtained an admission in another College in Nagarcoil subject to his succeeding in the present proceedings and as the said seat was to be kept vacant only till 31-7-1977, the petitioner prayed that the writ appeal itself could be disposed of and that the matter cannot wait till the arrival of the Vice-Chancellor as it is not known whether the authorities of the other college would keep the seat vacant till then. It is in these circumstances that we have to dispose of the writ appeal without waiting for the authorities of the Madurai University to reconsider the case in the light of what had been stated in the course of the hearing of these proceedings on an earlier occasion. We are not happy over the attitude adopted by the Madurai University. On an earlier occasion when the matter came up before this court, RamaprasadaRao J. sitting with Ratnavel Pandian J. observed -
'After hearing the counsel and without prejudice to the contention of both sides we are prima facie of the view that a condidate who was admitted by the University through its own officers and who stood the test of patience for one year and studied in one of the Colleges affiliated with the University and is appearing for the concerned examination should not now be told about the technicalities of law and the mistakes committed by its own officers so as to deprive the student of his legitimate year of education activity. It is for the University even now to consider whether it would not be equitable and in the interest of justice to regularise the admission as a special case.'
7. It may be seen that the observations of Ramaprasada Rao J. were made at a time when the petitioner had not appeared for the examination and his result was also not known. Now, after the petitioner has appeared for the examination and after he had passed in second class, the University authorities are still taking their own time for the purpose of considering whether the petitioner should be given exemption or not. It is not as if the power of exemption has not been exercised in appropriate cases. It is not clear as to why the authorities do not want to exercise the power of exemption in this case.
8. We shall first consider the question as to whether the petitioner was actually admitted without any condition, the word 'provisionally' not being stated in the admission card issued to him, as contended by the counsel for the appellant. In other words, on behalf of the respondents the submission made was that the petitioner had only been provisionally admitted. However, the learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the petitioner had been granted an unqualified admission and that the plea that there was a provisional admission is only an afterthought. As far as this aspect is concerned, it is difficult to decide the question without the counter affidavit from the first and second respondents. Counter affidavits were not filed as the writ petition was dismissed in limine. We do not therefore propose to enter into the question as to how and when certain endorsements of the admission being provisional were made in the application and admission card, but, however we would preferto rest our consideration on the basis of how the Controller of Examinations, the authority functioning under the University has himself understood the nature of the admission in the present case. We have already extracted the relevant paragraph from the communication of the Controller of Examinations dated 28-10-1976, sent to the Principal, Scott Christian College, Nagarcoil. In the said letter it had been stated that the second respondent had admitted a candidate who had not satisfied the relevant rules. This sentence goes to show that the admission was unqualified and not provisional. If it was a qualified admission and only a provisional admission, then the authorities would only have withdrawn the provisional admission. The fact that he had to cancel the admission clearly goes to show that the admission as originally made was not provisional. Further the petitioner could not be expected to have foregone a regular admission and joined an institution on the basis of a problematical and provisional one. The probabilities do not support the University's contention. We are thus satisfied that there was a regular admission of the petitioner in the second respondent College. In fact any provisional admission would ordinarily be made only pending the consideration of the application to be made to the Madurai University for recognition of the individual cases. In other words, the procedure in such cases was stated to be as follows -- Whenever a student had appeared for an examination conducted by any other University other than the Madras, Madurai and Annamalai Universities the College to which an application was made was to forward the application for consideration by the University so as to recognise his admission. In the present case, as mentioned already the admission had been made before 1-7-1976 and the petitioner had paid his fees and had joined the classes on 1-7-1976. If, any provisional admission had been made, then one would have expected the appropriate authorities to have taken immediately from him the requisite form for the purpose of recognition by the University authorities. This form, as mentioned already had been taken from the petitioner only on 13-9-1976. After the Principal forwarded this form the University authorities took more than a month for the purpose of considering the same and only after such a delay the University authorities had chosen to cancel the admission given to the petitioner,These circumstances, in our opinion, go to show that the original admission was not a provisional one and that it was what can be called a pucca admission.
9. If the admission was a regular one as mentioned above, then the question that arises is whether the University authorities had any power to cancel the said admission. The question as to whether the University authorities, in similar cases, are estopped from cancelling the admission has been the subject of consideration in several decided cases. In the Registrar, University of Madras v. Soundara Shetti, : (1956)1MLJ25 the candidate who applied for admission to the University course had not actually been declared eligible for such course. He lacked even the basic qualification. However, in the S S L C book that was given to him there was an endorsement that he had been declared eligible. On the strength of that endorsement he sought and obtained admission in a college. Then the University authorities discovered that there was a mistake in his admission and thereafter sought to cancel the said admission. It was the cancellation of the admission that brought the matter before this court in a writ petition. Rajagopalan J. who considered the writ petition made the rule absolute and ultimately an appeal was preferred by the University of Madras. The question that arose was whether the University was estopped from taking up the position that the particular candidate had been wrongly admitted for the University course. In the following passage, the question of estoppel was considered by the Bench thus (at p. 315 of AIR):--
'But he (counsel for the student) contended that in that particular case, having regard to what had happened, the University was estopped from saying that he could not continue his study and that he should leave the College. On the strength of a wrong endorsement made by the Secretary, Secondary Education Board, acting presumably on behalf of the University, the petitioner has expended time and money in pursuing a course of study in the College for nearly two years. He should not now be told that there was a mistake and all the two years of his study should go waste. We agree with him. We would prefer to rest our decision on the ground of equitable estoppel rather than on the ground of unreasonable exercise of power by the University, though ultimately the same result follows,Mr. Venkatasubramania Iyer met this plea of estoppel by the argument that the University was not responsible for what the Principal had done. But this is no answer. What the petitioner relied on is the endorsement of eligibility on the S S L C book which must be deemed to have been made on behalf of the University as a result of which the petitioner undertook a course of study involving the expenditure of time and money. In our opinion, this is an instance of something much more substantial than what Mr. Venkatasubramania Iyer characterised as sentimental estoppel. It is a case of legal or equitable estoppel which satisfied practically all the conditions embodied in Section 115 of the Evidence Act.'
10. The learned counsel for the first respondent submitted that the main considerations which weighed with the court in upholding the plea of estoppel in that case was that there was a delay of more than a year and in the present case there is no such delay. However, what has to be remembered is that the petitioner had joined a course of short duration, namely less than a year and he has prosecuted his studies for more than 4 or 5 months before he got the notice of cancellation from the University authorities. Having regard to the duration of the course the delay wag unreasonable. Therefore whatever considerations that persuaded the learned Judges in University of Madras v. Soundara Shetti, : (1956)1MLJ25 to uphold the plea of estoppel are present in the instant case.
11. The learned counsel for the first respondent submitted that the University authorities cannot be made responsible for what had been done by the Principal in this particular case. The question as to whether any action of the Principal is binding on the University has been the subject of consideration by the Delhi High Court in University of Delhi v. Ashok Kumar Chopra, : AIR1968Delhi131 , In that case the candidate who joined the College had completed an examination conducted by the Gujarat Secondary School Certificate Examination Board, Baroda. He applied for admission in Desabandhu College, New Delhi for studying in B. A. (Pass course) of the University of Delhi. In this case also he lacked the basic qualification, as the said examination of Baroda had been recognised for admission into the College course, and not for the degree course. The parti-cular candidate had pursued his studies for some time in the degree course and a similar procedure for cancellation of his admission was gone through in the said case also.
12. It was that which brought the matter before the Delhi High Court. It was pointed out at page 137-
'Before discussing the decisions cited at the Bar, we may point out that there are two answers to the argument of Sri Avadh Behari that to these oases, the proposition that there can be no estoppel against a statute will apply. The first answer is, that as pointed out by the learned Judge (Tatachari J. as he then was), in view of the provisions contained in Ordinance X-A any admission made contrary to the terms of Clause 1 of Ordinance I cannot be considered to be an ultra vires act, and therefore the proposition has no application. The second answer is that the doctrine will apply only with reference to the pleading of the University that it had not approved the provisional admission made by the principals. The reason is that once the University had kept quiet and had not sent any intimation to the students concerned that it had not confirmed the provisional admission made by the Principals of the Colleges that silence and inaction will amount to a representation that the University had approved the admission of the students concerned. It is the fact that the University had not approved the admission of the students in question that the University is estopped from denying.'
13. Again at page 140 it was observed-
'The position is that if the terms of a statute are absolute and do not admit any of the relaxation or exemption, then anything done contrary to the terms of such a statute will be ultra vires and will be void and no person can be estopped from putting forward the contention that what he did was illegal or void. On the other hand, if a statute having prescribed certain conditions or qualifications for the doing of a certain thing itself provides for exemption therefrom under certain circumstances or authorises somebody to exercise the power of exemption then anything done not in terms of those conditions or qualifications will not be ultra vires and will be said to he merely irregular and to such an act, the proposition that there can be no estoppel against a statute will have no application.'
14. The above passage completely covers the contention that there can be no estoppel against a statute raised on behalf of the University before us. At page 141 of the report, the question of agency has been considered and it was observed-
'When the applications were taken from the students by the Principals of the College for forwarding the same to the University, the Principals were acting as agents of the University and the University all along knew that on the strength of the provisional admission granted to them by the Principal, the students are continuing their studies in the college and if they are to be told that they were not eligible for admission, they should be told so at an early time.' The Principal would thus be the agent of the University. We consider that in the present case the candidate has not been told early enough that the admission that had been made by the Principal acting on behalf of the University was only a provisional one and was liable to be cancelled and had to be cancelled as it violated some rule, bye-law or regulation. The silence end delay justify the invocation of the doctrine of estoppel.
15. The learned counsel for the first respondent submitted that the petitioner could not be said to have acted to his prejudice in the present case because he had given up his studies in Trivandrum where he had to undergo a two year course while he could complete the Pre-University course which was one year. According to him by joining a shorter course he was not acting to his prejudice or detriment. The decided cases require that in order to uphold a plea of estoppel, the court should be satisfied that there was some detriment undergone as a result of the representation made by the particular authority. Even considered from this stand point, on the facts here, we are satisfied that the petitioner had undergone some detriment. The course that the petitioner had taken in Trivandrum was for about two years and he would have had to study only for two years in the degree course. By joining the shorter course the petitioner would have to study the degree course in Madurai University for a duration of three years. The total duration was four years in both cases. In the present case, the petitioner did not derive any advantage by joining the short course and having paid his fees in the Trivandrum College and having foregone the fees on the basis of the admissiongiven by the Scott Christian College, he had actually suffered detriment and we are satisfied that the detriment required for the application of the rule of estoppel is present in this case.
16. The learned counsel for the first respondent drew our attention to certain decisions of the Supreme Court but they do not lay down anything contrary to the conclusion drawn by us. However, we may briefly notice one of these decisions namely Asst. Custodian Evacuee Property v. Brijkishore, : 2SCR359 . In that case, the wife of a Police Officer of the then United Provinces, was in Teheran in 1947 along with her husband. She migrated to Pakistan in 1948. In 1962 she came to India and sold the property which she had in Lucknow. Before the transaction the purchasers had enquired from the Assistant Custodian whether it was an evacuee property and has received a reply in the negative. The property was declared on 25-3-1963 as evacuee property and on 7-3-1964, a Notification was issued acquiring it under Section 12 of the Displaced Persons (Compensation and Rehabilitation) Act. On the question whether there was estoppel operating, a Bench consisting of two learned Judges of the Supreme Court points out that the fact that the purchasers had made an enquiry and had been told that it was not an evacuee property did not make any difference and that the property was evacuee property. Before the Supreme Court, reliance has been placed on a decision of Lord Denning in Robertson v. Minister of Pensions, 1947 1 K B 227. In the case that was decided by the King's Bench, the question was whether the Minister of Pensions was bound by the letter that had been issued by the War Office. In other words, the question was whether one Ministry was bound by a representation made by another Ministry. Lord Denning pointed out-
'In my opinion if a Government department in its dealings with a subject takes it upon itself to assume authority upon a matter with which he is concerned, he is entitled to rely upon having the authority which it assumes. He does not know and cannot be expected to know the limits of its authority. The department itself is clearly bound and as it is but an agent for the Crown, it binds the Crown also; and as the Crown is bound, so are the other departments for they also are but agents of the Crown. The War Office letter therefore binds the Crown, andthrough the Crown, it binds the Minister of Pensions.'
These observations of Lord Penning were disapproved in a later decision of the House of Lords in Powell v. Palmouth Road Construction Co. Ltd., 1951 A. C. 837. The Supreme Court considered that the observations of Lord Denning having been disapproved would not be relevant for consideration in the case before their Lordships. However, these very observations of Lord Denning had been accepted as laying down the correct law by a larger Bench of the Supreme Court on at least two earlier occasions and had become the law of the land. In Union of India v. Anglo Afghan Agencies, AIR 1968 SC 718, the passage from Lord Denning's judgment was quoted with approval in dealing with a case of estoppel. Again in Century Spinning and Manfacturing Co. Ltd. v. Ulhasnagar Municipal Council, : 3SCR854 , the Supreme Court reiterated its approval of the passage from the judgment of Lord Denning. Thus the plea of estoppel is available against the Government and other authorities. In fact in the case last cited it was pointed out at page 1025-
'If our nascent democracy is to thrive different standards of conduct for the people and the public bodies cannot ordinarily be permitted. A public body is in our judgment not exempt from liability to carry out its obligation arising out of representations made by it relying upon which a citizen has altered his position to his prejudice.'
17. In the case of Asst. Custodian, Evacuee Property v. Brij Kisore Agarwala, : 2SCR359 these earlier decisions of the Supreme Court had not been brought to the notice of their Lordships. Therefore, we consider that the plea of estoppel has to succeed as against the respondents. We consider that the writ petitioner having succeeded on the plea of estoppel, the cancellation of his admission has to be quashed end it is accordingly quashed. The appeal is allowed. There will be no order as to costs.
18. Appeal allowed.