Mere Reservation For Disabled Is Meaningless If They Are Not Adequately Supported By Institutions: Delhi HC [Read Judgment]

The Delhi High Court recently slammed the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D) for expelling a disabled student who had failed to clear the first semester, opining that it was the institute's responsibility to provide adequate support and guidance to such disabled students who are unable to cope with the syllabus.

Referring to provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, Justice Rekha Palli also gave a word of advice to institutes in general, observing,

"...the object sought to be achieved by these special enactments is to give persons suffering from disabilities an opportunity to join the mainstream and attain full participation in nation-building. For this purpose, it is incumbent for the educational institutes to give them extra coaching and guidance if need be and provide them reservation at the time of admission in the Institutes. A mere reservation at the time of entry into the Institute, would become meaningless if the Institutes like IIT Delhi/Respondent No.1 don't do their bit and extend a helping hand to such students."

The Court was hearing a Petition filed by Mr. Manif Alam, a physically-disabled student enrolled in M.Sc. Mathematics at IIT-D. Mr. Alam had challenged an order passed by the College, whereby his name was struck off the rolls immediately at the end of his first semester owing to his failure to secure the requisite minimum SGPA of 4.0.

Mr. Alam had now contended that he had faced difficulties in following the lectures which were delivered only in English language. He had pointed out that he had received most of his education in Hindi medium institutions and had also highlighted the need for an Equal Opportunity Cell which would have allowed him to seek redressal for his issues or complaints.

He had further relied on the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to highlight the College's failure to setup a mechanism to facilitate the education of such 'Persons with Disabilities'.

The College had, on the other hand, contended that it merely acted according to the Rules of the Institution as laid down in its brochure and pointed out that Mr. Alam was well aware of these rules as he had signed an undertaking to this effect. It had further submitted that these Rules had been framed by experts in the field of education and that it has been held in a catena of judgments that courts should not interfere in academic matters.

The Court at the outset noted that the issue posed before it travelled beyond the validity of Mr. Alam's expulsion and opined that the core issue was "whether a student like the petitioner who is able to join a premier Institute like IIT Delhi only because of the 5% reservation provided for “Persons with Disability‟ can be expelled from the Institute after the very first semester on account of his inability to meet the criteria fixed for general students who had admittedly joined the Institute with much better academic backgrounds in terms of marks".

It then referred to various provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and opined that IIT-D had failed to provide necessary support to Mr Alam, observing,

"The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 clearly mandates in Section 16 sub-clause (iv) that it is the duty of all educational institutions to provide necessary support to maximize academic and social development consistent with the goal of full inclusion, and in sub-clause (vii) mandates monitoring participation, progress in terms of attainment levels and completion of education with respect of every student with disability; which can never be achieved if they are expelled without giving further an opportunity to attain the necessary levels.

Respondent No.1 has clearly failed to comply with such requirements and if this is the state of affairs of the IITs in India then one can only imagine what goes on the institutions which get lesser funds and guidance from the Union Government."

The Court further opined that IIT-D should have been "more sensitive" towards needs of persons with disabilities and rapped the Institute for automatic expulsion of students upon their failure to achieve the prescribed grade, without even giving them an opportunity to explain the cause of their failure to meet the prescribed criteria.

It observed,

" Respondent No.1-Institute having admittedly failed to provide special facilities by way of extra coaching and guidance to the petitioner has failed in its duty and for this reason alone, the impugned order is liable to be set aside. The petitioner surely deserves a chance to improve his performance and make an attempt to clear his backlog for which purpose the respondent Institute ought to give him extra coaching and guidance...

...Even though full autonomy ought to be given to Educational institutes in respect of academic standards but this autonomy cannot be read to mean that the students, and that too those belonging to this disadvantaged group of physically challenged persons, should not even be given a chance to improve their performance."

The Court, therefore, set aside the impugned order, directing the College to re-admit Mr Alam and provide him extra coaching, if need be.

Read the Judgment Here