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Madras HC: Colleges Having Academic Autonomy Does Not Confer Functional Autonomy Under DHTE

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On 27/08/21, the Madras High Court decided the case of Dr. P.S. Sujith Kumar v. The Director of Higher and Technical Education of Puducherry & Ors. This is a writ petition filed to direct Respondent 2 (The Principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya in Pondicherry University Campus), to grant admission to the Petitioner’s daughters in the first standard, in accordance with guidelines of SGC under Category III. The matter was heard and decided upon by Hon’ble Justice Anand Venkatesh.

Facts of the case

The Petitioner is an Assistant Professor of Economics in “Kanchi Mamunivar Government Institute for Post Graduate Studies and Research, Puducherry”. Under the ambit of Directorate of Higher and Technical Education (DHTE) (Respondent 1), there lies two categories- Firstly, those colleges where DHTE can exert direct control over their functioning and secondly, those colleges where DHTE can extend financial funding, but operate as an autonomous body by Pondicherry Society for Higher Education.

The college where the Petitioner resides falls under the former category. The Petitioner has twin girls in the first standard, and they applied for admission in accordance with Category III of the guidelines. However, this application has been rejected. Thereby, a writ petition was filed.

Arguments before the Court

The Counsel for the Petitioner submitted that the college falls under Category III. As per these guidelines, priority in admission must be given to, “Children of transferable and non-transferable State Government employees.”

The Counsel for the Respondents submitted that the reason for rejecting the Petitioner’s application for admission is because the college is an autonomous institution and falls within the ambit of Category 1V of the guidelines. This states that priority in admission must be given to, “Children of transferable and non-transferable employees of Autonomous Bodies/Public Sector Undertakings/ Institute of Higher Learning of the State Governments.”

Court’s Observations

The Court summarized the following issue as: Whether the institution where the Petitioner is working in, falls under Category III or Category 1V of the Guidelines?

The Court observed that there are 7 Government colleges falling under the ambit of DHTE, out of which, 2 colleges have been rendered the status of academic autonomy. The school that the Petitioner is working in, is one which falls under this category of academic autonomy. 

With relation to academic autonomy, colleges have the liberty to frame their own syllabi and conduct examinations internally. This autonomy is awarded by Pondicherry University to those colleges who have attained a level of excellence. However, this academic autonomy has no relationship with functional autonomy. Even these academically autonomous colleges are directly controlled by the DHTE.

The Court further observed that Respondent 2 has been carried away by using the term ‘Autonomous’ and has automatically concluded that the Petitioner will fall under Category IV of the guidelines. However, Respondent 2 has failed to notice that the institution where the Petitioner is working has only academic autonomy, and not functional autonomy. 

Court’s Decision

The college where the Petitioner is working in is directly controlled and administered by DHTE. Thus, the Petitioner falls under Category III of the guidelines. The Petitioner’s twin daughters ought to have received admission accordingly. Thus, the rejection letter issued by Respondent 2 stands quashed, and is directed to consider the admission under Category III of the guidelines.

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