2 Aug 2022 6:00 AM GMT
The Kerala High Court recently quashed the suspension orders issued against certain Assistant Professors of the Sree Narayana Guru College finding that they were issued prior to the report of the Internal Complaints Committee against them. Justice Devan Ramachandran quashed the suspension orders upon learning that their suspension was premeditated while refraining from commenting further...
The Kerala High Court recently quashed the suspension orders issued against certain Assistant Professors of the Sree Narayana Guru College finding that they were issued prior to the report of the Internal Complaints Committee against them.
Justice Devan Ramachandran quashed the suspension orders upon learning that their suspension was premeditated while refraining from commenting further on the same.
"...the order of suspension is dated 8.10.2021, in which, the issuing Authority records that the allegations against Sri.T.Abhilash are frivolous and false, though it is unreservedly admitted that the 'ICC Report' came only on 19.10.2021. Clearly, the action against the petitioners can be suspected to be premeditated."
The Court was adjudicating upon a batch of petitions moved by several students of the Sree Narayana Guru College alleging biased investigation into the sexual harassment complaints raised against an Assistant Professor therein.
The alleged incident came to light after a group of students confessed of the inappropriate sexual behaviour to Swapna Gopinath, a former employee of the college who was invited to the college to talk on gender sensitization.
One of the petitions was filed by the professor accused of sexually assaulting students, alleging that the allegations were a nefarious scheme devised by Swapna Gopinath and certain other faculty members.
A few of the petitioners were Assistant Professors and participants in the programme, who were suspended from the college pursuant to the incident.
The College argued that the gender sensitization programme was conducted without its permission with no regard to its objection against the same. The College apparently objected to the programme since Swapna Gopinath was one of the speakers, whose influence was deleterious to the students.
Further, it was asserted that it had constituted an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) under the University Grants Commission (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015. It added that the ICC had exonerated the accused and accused Swapna Gopinath and four other faculty members of persuading the students to file a false sexual harassment complaint against him.
Consequently, it recommended action for such vexatious and motivated action by the former.
The Assistant Professors argued that the orders of suspension are per se illegal since they were issued even before the ICC had submitted their final report. Thus, it was pointed out that the imputations against them were premeditated and without any corroborative basis.
The aggrieved students also moved the High Court seeking to quash the 'ICC Report' and arguing that the ICC was constituted contrary to the Regulations.
To this, the University responded that if the Court was so inclined, he would not stand in the way of orders being issued for a fresh ICC being constituted and it being allowed to enquire into the allegations and complete its proceedings thereon, in terms of the statutory scheme.
The Judge recorded this submission and found that there was more than one reason to find fault with the impugned ICC report.
It was clear that the ICC report was issued ten days after a new Head was appointed to the Committee, which implied that the new Head of the committee did not have any exposure to the facts and evidence involved.
"When one views this from the prism of the allegations of the students that the 'ICC Report' is one issued without properly adverting to the evidence, certainly, I find force in the suggestion that a new ICC will have to be constituted and a report settled by it in terms of law. Of course, this committee will have to be as per the 'Regulations'...and will have to proceed as per the statutory mandate."
As such, the ICC report was quashed.
Regarding the suspension orders served to the Assistant Professors, the Judge noted that the orders did not mention that they had participated in the programme, but rather that they had supported Swapna Gopinath and spurred the students to file false complaints.
"the suspension of the 'Assistant Professors' cannot appeal to me because, the allegation against them is not that they had participated in a program objected to by the College, but solely that they had supported Smt.Swapna Gopinath"
Without going into the merits of the case Justice Ramachandran opined that these allegations, prima facie, were bewildering.
"It is rather baffling that a moralistic and extremely patriarchal stand should be adopted by the College in holding that even a reference to drinking among lady teachers would cause deprivation of the moral standards of their students."
Moreover, upon finding that the suspension orders were issued prior to the ICC report, the Court quashed these orders but allowed the enquiry against them to go on.
The petitioners were represented by Senior Advocate Dr.K.P.Sathisan instructed by Advocate K.Sudhin Kumar, and Advocates P.C.Sasidharan, V.A.Mini and Raghul Sudheesh respectively.
Standing Counsel Thomas Abraham appeared for the Kerala University, Advocate M.S.Radhakrishnan Nair for the erstwhile Principal of the College and Government Pleader Resmi Thomas on behalf of the official respondents.
Case Title: Gouri Dev S.B & Ors. v. University Grants Commission & Ors. and connected matters
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 395
Click Here To Read/Download The Order