The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) is expected to learn the fate of its lawsuit against Cabinet over a recent move, to revamp the Government’s policy for awarding scholarships for tertiary education, by September.
During a virtual hearing before Justice Nadia Kangaloo, yesterday, attorneys for both parties agreed to have an urgent rolled-up hearing of the case.
The trial of the case will take place on August 5, with Kangaloo expected to deliver her judgement a month later on September 6.
In the lawsuit, the religious organisation, whose school board manages 43 primary and five secondary schools as well as 20 early childhood centres, is challenging the policy which was officially announced by the Ministry of Education on March 11.
Under the new policy, the Government reduced the annual allotment of scholarships from a maximum of 400 to 100.
It also introduced a new bursary system, under which 500 would be awarded to students, who apply.
The SDMS is claiming that students who sat the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination(CAPE) exams, last year, and are subjected to the new policy had a legitimate expectation that they would be eligible for approximately 400 scholarships based solely on academic performance.
They are also challenging the fact that bursaries are to be awarded based on a range of criteria including extra-circular activities, community contribution, and alignment to priority areas of development.
While it admits that Cabinet is allowed to change the policy, it should not be applied to students, who would have picked the subjects of study based on the previous scholarship policy and criteria.
“If the students of the secondary schools of the intended claimant knew that the government would not apply the then existing policy at the time they completed their examinations in 2020 to the results of the CAPE examinations, they would not have devoted such time towards their academic performance in the said examinations and would not have sacrificed their extracurricular activities in preference to concentrate on their academic studies,” its lawyers said.
Attached to the lawsuit are the affidavits of several former students of SDMS schools who would have completed their CAPE exams, last year.
The students all claimed that they were interested in pursuing the case as they missed out on scholarship despite their excellent results but cannot afford to do so.
“These students are young adults who have not yet begun their careers or their tertiary education and do not have any income of their own to pay for tertiary education, who expected to obtain national scholarships for that purpose,” its lawyers said.
The SDMS is claiming that as a stakeholder it should have been consulted before the policy was instituted.
In its court filings, the SDMS claimed it was not outside the time limit for bringing a judicial review as Cabinet took the decision in November, last year.
Its lawyers claimed that they had to wait until it was officially announced by the ministry and communicated to their client and its students in March.
Through the lawsuit, the SDMS is seeking a series of declarations against the new policy and an order rescinding it for students, who had already written their exams when it was implemented.
The SDMS is being represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon, Isa Dookie and Rhea Khan.
The Cabinet was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, Rishi Dass and Zelica Haynes-Soo Hon.