"Universities are a microcosm of the society. They are laboratories of social change, and also agents of social transformation."
Holding that a student cannot be deprived of education merely because he is an accused in a criminal case and that he must be given an opportunity to reform himself, the Allahabad High Court directed the Banaras Hindu University to admit a delinquent student to the MA course offered by the University.
The Petitioner herein, Satyam Rai, was barred by the Respondent University from entering the university campus, or accessing any facilities therein. The said order of suspension was passed pursuant to a criminal case registered against him under Sections 147, 148, 427, 435, 341, 323, 34 of IPC and Sections ¾ of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984.
Quashing the suspension order, Justice Ajay Bhanot said,
"Education is a most credible and effective mode of restoring self esteem and enhancing self worth. By denying opportunities of education to a delinquent student, without looking at the possibility of reform, the power to redeem one's errors and enhance self worth is taken away from an individual. In these cases, closure of avenues of education, extinguishes the hope for a better tomorrow.
Statutory regimes in universities, dealing with delinquent behaviour and university environments, which are bereft of therapeutic and reform based support systems, are incompatible with the constitutional mandate to uphold human dignity."
The court observed that absence of any reform and rehabilitative measures, in the administrative and legal frameworks of the universities, has serious legal and constitutional implications as it takes a toll on the right to live with human dignity, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
"Failure to consider susceptibility to reform, while denying the right to access privileges and activities of the university, negates the possibility of rehabilitation. Absence of an environment of reform, self development and rehabilitation in a university, denies the opportunity of redeeming one's reputation. Termination of dialogue with the delinquent student, without offering an opportunity to reform, makes him an outcaste. The individual is permanently discarded by the institution, and loss of human self worth is total. This system of punishment is destructive of fundamental elements of human dignity, and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India," the court observed.
The court further noted that while lodging of false criminal cases was not uncommon in the country, their trials took inordinately long to conclude. In such circumstances, indefinite suspension and denial of opportunities of education causes a stigma, without any enquiry.
"The acts of violence if proved, may warrant disciplinary action to maintain discipline in the campus. But the facts of the case, also require reformative measures to protect the future of the petitioner. However, the suspension of the petitioner cannot continue indefinitely. A regular departmental enquiry against the students has not been concluded till date. The petitioner cannot be deprived of higher education indefinitely," it thus held.
The court rejected the arguments advanced by the University that disciplinary action of suspension against the Petitioner was necessary to create deterrence among other students and to maintain good order, discipline and stability of the academic atmosphere in the University. It rather observed that Disciplinary action should also be supported by reformative philosophy.
"The statutory regime imposes punishment for delinquent acts. The reform programme will address the cause of delinquency itself. Framing the approach to discipline as a choice between punishment or reform is misleading. A just corrective system needs both. Both approaches complement each other and can be pursued simultaneously. Deterrent aspect may also be reinforced, by making grant of the degree contingent upon successful completion of the reform programme," it held.
"Structured reform, self development and rehabilitation programmes and therapeutic support, within a legal framework, will create an enabling environment (emphasis supplied) in the universities, to realize the fundamental right of human dignity, flowing from Article 21 of the Constitution of India."
The argument advanced by the University that its rules prescribed suspension in case a student was found to be guilty of moral turpitude was also rejected by the court.
The court said that mere commission of a criminal offence would not lead to an inference, that the act is one of moral turpitude. Offences which can be categorised as those involving "moral turpitude", will be depend on the facts of each case, it said.
Relying on the decision of the Apex Court in State Bank of India & Ors. v. P. Soupramaniane, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 608, the court noted that the University had not recorded its satisfaction of the jurisdictional prerequisites for determining the nature of crime, as mentioned therein. It observed,
"The issue whether the offending act attributed to the petitioner, fell in the categories of "heinous crime (including violence and intimidation) or was an act of moral turpitude", is wholly absent from consideration. The impugned order suffers from non application of mind, and was passed mechanically," it held.
In the light of above observations, the court quashed the suspension order and directed the University to forthwith grant him admission to the MA course. It further issued following guidelines to the University to ensure rehabilitation and reform of delinquent students:
The Petitioner was represented by Advocates Ashish Kumar Srivastava and Ajay Kumar Rai and the Respondent by Advocates Krishna Raj Singh Jadaun and Rijwan Ali Akhtar.
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