The Gujarat High Court has declined to intervene in a writ petition seeking reinstatement with full backwages and benefits filed by an Assistant Professor against the Sabarmati University, a private university. Justice Bhargav Karia clarified that the dispute regarding termination was 'in the realm of a private contract' and therefore, held:
"…if at all there is an alleged arbitrary action on the part of the respondent, the same would give cause to the petitioner to initiate civil action before the Civil Court but in the facts of the present case, the writ petition against the private educational institution governed by the Gujarat Private Universities Act, 2009 would not be maintainable."
The Petitioner herein was given a three months' notice starting August 2013, allegedly without any reason. Consequently, the Petitioner had earlier filed an application before the Gujarat Affiliated Colleges Service Tribunal and thereafter, withdrew the application to file the writ before the High Court.
The Respondents contested that the petition was not maintainable on the ground that the University was a private University and did not fall within the term 'State' under Art 12. Additionally, the employment conditions of the Petitioner would not bring her services within the realm of 'public function or duty.'
The Petitioner, per contra, insisted that the University was established under the Gujarat Private Universities Act, 2009. Further, Universities were established to provide quality and industry relevant higher education and for related matters and hence, it could not be said that the Universities were not performing public duty. The State Government had direct and pervasive control over the functioning of it as was mentioned in Sec 31-35 of Chapter VI of the Act. Reliance was placed on Janet Jeyapaul vs. SRM University and ors. where the Supreme Court had held that the writ petition was maintainable against the deemed university whose functions were governed by the UGC Act, 1956.
Taking stock of the contentions, Justice Karia referred to Mukesh Bhavarlal Bhandari and ors vs. Dr. Nagesh Bhandari and ors where the Coordinate Bench of the High Court in similar circumstances had reiterated:
"Merely because the activity of the said research institute ensures to the benefit of the Indian public, it cannot be a guiding factor to determine the character of the Institute and bring the same within the sweep of 'public function or public duty.'"
The High Court also rejected the reference to Janet Jeyapaul since in the instant case and held that the termination of the Petitioner was to be decided in the realm of a private contract.
"It is, therefore, not necessary to go into the merits of the case with regard to the issue of show-cause notice for providing an opportunity of hearing resulting into breach of principle of natural justice and whether the action of the respondent University is unfair or not because all such disputes essentially are in the realm of private contract…"
Accordingly, the petition was dismissed.
Case No.: C/SCA/17863/2013
Case Title: SHAMBHAVI KUMARI v/s SABARMATI UNIVERSITY & 3 other(s)
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Guj) 313