Update on legal challenge by JNU students against changes to JNU admission policy, 7.3.17

The JNUTA is pleased to announce that the hearing on the Writ Petition Shubhanshu Singh & Ors. vs. Jawaharlal Nehru University (W.P.C. No. 1557/2017), were completed today. The Petitioners were represented by a team led by Senior Counsel Arvind Nigam and comprising of Vrinda Grover, Parijata Bhardwaj, Padma Priya, and Ratna A. JNU as the respondent JNU was represented by Monika Arora and Tushar Mehta, the Additional Solicitor General of India.
The main prayer of the petitioners to the Court is that JNU be directed to hold an emergency AC meeting to discuss both admission policy and intake, in accordance with established procedure and the JNU Act. The students Counsel, Sr. Adv. Arvind Nigam, through a series of brilliant arguments, demonstrated from both the students case as well as the written counter-reply filed by JNU, that in fact both parties actually agree that a procedure for determining admission policy and intake exists and that it must be complied with. He showed that on the matter of the adoption of the UGC Regulations 2016, there had been serious violation of statutory provisions. This was quite in contrast with the adoption and implementation of the UGC Regulations 2009, where the Academic Council had after due deliberation arrived at a harmonisation between the provisions of the UGC Regulations and the JNU Act, and the admission policy that flows from it. Mr. Nigam pointed out that UGC sets minimum standards for education, however the university which has got the award for the best administered university today is being told to implement minimum standards for “no education” by having to declare zero year for some programmes.

In a most surprising rebuttal, ASG Tushar Mehta argued that it was completely unnecessary for any of the provisions of the JNU Act to be respected in the face of regulations drafted by the UGC, as the latter were ‘mandatory’ and ‘binding’. Agreeing with Adv. Arvind Nigam that there indeed been serious statutory and procedural violations in the conduct of the 141st and 142nd AC and 266th and 267th EC meetings, ASG Mehta deemed these completely irrelevant, because (in his view) the suzerainty of the UGC Act could never be assailed. on the basis of a sworn affidavit by the Registrar of JNU. Such a scandalous disregard for the law, in which the written submission and oral arguments are in such sharp contradiction, are rarely witnessed in a court of law; but for the JNU community, what is even worse is that the JNU administration allowed such a legal strategy to be employed in the first place. By characterising the Vice-Chancellor’s prolific statements on social justice and the new admission policy as “illegal”, and by his assessment of the psychological state of mind of the Vice- Chancellor as being “under duress”, the learned ASG quite comprehensively undermined the office of the Vice-Chancellor and the Academic Council. JNUTA is appalled that JNU’s top officials gave instructions to JNU’s counsel to undermine their own statutory duty to uphold the JNU Act and the due process that flows from it, and speak against its own written submission which did not dispute the fact that it is only the Academic Council that can make any new Ordinances.

The students’ Counsel forcefully challenged this attempt to mislead the Court, and argued both from the JNU Act and from the letter of the UGC Regulations 2016 that such regulations must be adopted by the appropriate academic bodies of the University, and that the such adoption had to be an exercise of harmonisation with existing Statutes. The counsel strenuously argued that counsel must be “estopped”—i.e., prevented from making assertions that were contradictory and outside the written submissions. The Court accepted these arguments, and closed the hearings on the writ petition. Orders have been reserved and should be announced soon.

The JNU community should note that the JNU Act was saved today from an attack by the very people who are statutorily required to uphold it. JNUTA urges the faculty, all members of the Academic Council and Executive Council to unite to save the JNU Act, or else the statutory powers to make policies and decisions will be usurped from all relevant bodies in the service of state power. It would also like to remind the JNU administration that while genuflection before external authorities can net you friends in high places, stooping so low as to gift away the university’s autonomy can be a position difficult to recover from, as debasement can only lead to depreciation of value.

Ayesha Kidwai               Pradeep Shinde

President, JNUTA        Secretary, JNUTA


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