A Writ Petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for issuing a Writ of Certiorari filed Mandamus calling for records of the First Respondent dated 08.03.2021. It prayed to quash the same and direct the UGC to consider the Petitioner’s Application dated 11.02.2021 for conferment of autonomous status in the light of the judgment of the division of this Honourable Court in W.A.No.51 of 2020. The Honourable Apex Court had also confirmed it.
Facts of the Case
The Petitioner was an approved and affiliated Engineering College since 2010. It was approved by AICTE and affiliated to Anna University. The institution had served more than 10 years and had fulfilled the norms prescribed by UGC under The UGC Act and the regulation therein. An Application was made to UGC to declare the autonomous status to the petitioner institution on 11.02.2021.
According to UGC (Conferment of Autonomous Status upon Colleges and Measures for Maintenance of Standards in Autonomous Colleges) Regulations, 2018 various procedures had been contemplated as of the submission of an application by the institution seeking autonomous status and to be processed by the UGC.
As per Regulation 7(3) of 2018 Regulations, the Petitioner Institution had applied to Anna University to forward it to UGC. It was considered by Anna University but was rejected by a speaking order dated 08.03.2021. The grounds of rejection were:
- Student enrolment for the last three years was 30% against the requirement of 60%.
- The examination results for the last three years were 39.5% against the requirement of 70%.
The Petitioner had further made an independent application on 12.02.2021 to UGC to independently consider the request of the Petitioner for grant of autonomous status to the Petitioner institution in the light of the law declared by the court in a related case. The judgment of which was also confirmed by the court in a decision of the Honourable Supreme Court dated 24.07.2020.
Thus, the institution had filed the present writ petition to challenge the order of rejection made by the first respondent dated 08.03.2021 and consequently direct the Second Respondent to consider the application dated 12.03.2021 submitted independently in the light of the judgment referring to the judgments of the above case passed by this court.
Arguments by the Petitioners
The Petitioner had submitted that as per 2018 Regulations, the Application to be submitted by any institution to UGC seeking for autonomous status had to be routed through the affiliating university. Anna University being the affiliating University, therefore, said that the application was submitted to the Petitioner on 15.02.2021 to the first respondent and the same had been rejected through the impugned order 08.03.2021. The rejection was on the alleged reasons that the required number of pass percentage and required number of enrolment was not met by the institution.
In this regard, it was the requirement of the UGC as per the norms prescribed as of the basis an institution had to be conferred the autonomous status. Since the application had to be routed through the University, only for that purpose the petitioner had applied to the first respondent and an advanced copy already was sent to UGC. Merely because the first respondent had rejected it, it would not ipso-facto preclude the petitioner’s application to be considered by the UGC for conferment of autonomous status.
The Petitioner had relied on the observation made by the Division Bench of this court in case W.A.No.51 of 2020. He contended that it was not mandated, that unless the affiliating University forwards the application with a recommendation, the application submitted by the institution could not be considered by the UGC independently for conferment of autonomous status.
Thus, the petitioner sought the indulgence of the court to pass suitable orders to direct the Respondent UGC to consider the application of the Petitioner independently on its own merits. Also demanded that it be decided within a time frame.
Arguments of the Respondents
The First Respondent had submitted that the UGC itself had passed the 2018 regulations under its regulation-making power in UGC Act (Clause 7(3)). Under this regulation, the application was rejected by the impugned order dated 08.03.2021. As per the requirements under the regulations, the said rejection order had also been communicated to the Secretary, UGC which meant the requirement under the Clause had been complied with by the University. Thus the application submitted by the institution had come to a close and could not be further considered by the UGC.
The Respondent had also contended that the judgment which was relied upon by the petitioner could not be taken as a judgment in-rem. Instead could be treated as a judgment in-personam, as what had been stated in the judgment would apply only to the parties to the said case and not to any other institution.
It was also argued that, if UGC wanted to consider the application made directly by the petitioner as sought for in the given writ petition, UGC could not independently decide the same on its own, the merits of the application but before considering the same, the affiliating University should be consulted by the second respondent which was mandatory. Without which the UGC could not consider the application of the petitioner for conferment of autonomous status.
Therefore, the first respondent wanted to sustain the order passed and sought the indulgence of the court to reject the writ petition, as it had no deserving reason to be considered.
The second respondent contended that even though a speaking order/ rejection order had been made by the University dated 08.03.2021 and the same having been forwarded to UGC, certainly that input would also be taken into account as per the law declared by the court. As confirmed by the Honourable Supreme Court, consequently the application submitted by the petitioner dated 12.03.2021 to the UGC would be considered independently. Though on its own merits and while considering the same, the inputs supplied by the affiliating University i.e. the first respondent through the impugned order dated 08.03.2021 would also be taken into account.
The court had observed that as the legal position as to the powers and functions of the second respondent was concerned, there could be no quarrel. As the law had been well settled by the number of pronouncements by the Honourable Supreme Court as well various High courts.
In the recent judgment as referred to by the petitioner, the legal position had been explicitly stated as to the status of UGC for considering the application submitted by the institution concerned independently to declare it as an autonomous institution. The said judgment was confirmed by the orders of the Supreme Court, the judgment had become final. Therefore the legal position as laid down would govern the field.
Thus, the court observed that there could be no impediment for UGC to independently consider the application submitted by the institution for conferment of autonomous status. To reconcile Regulation 7(3) of the Regulation, where the application initially had to be routed through the affiliating University, then the University could either forward the same to UGC with its recommendation or the University could reject the same with reasons. Even if it was rejected, it had to be forwarded only to UGC for further action at the end of UGC under Regulation 7(3). It was for the intention of the Regulation-making authority.
If the pedantic view was taken, the court had opined that once the application was rejected by the affiliating University, if it could not be decided subsequently either independently or otherwise by the UGC, then the power conferred on UGC under the UGC Act and Regulations made would become otiose and that kind of interpretation could not be expected to be given by any court of law.
As far as the merits of the application were concerned, it had to be decided by the UGC on its own merits. Unless the institution, who filed the application seeking autonomous status, fulfilled the conditions imposed by UGC such institution was not entitled to get such a declaration from UGC.
The reasons stated by Anna University for rejecting the application of the Petitioner which would stand in the way of UGC to independently consider the application based on the other inputs supplied by the institutions was the question to be decided only by the UGC and not by the affiliating university.
The court had held that unmindful of the impugned order dated 08.03.2021 issued by the first respondent, certainly, the second respondent could independently decide the application dated 12.03.2021 submitted by the petitioner on its own merits. Following the law and it was thus for UGC to take the inputs supplied by the University by the way of speaking order dated 08.03.2021, which included the two reasons for rejection of the application of the Petitioner.
The court had also held that even without quashing the order dated 08.03.2021 of the first respondent, it might be directed that, it could only be treated as an input supplied by the affiliating University to UGC within the meaning of the second limb of Clause 7(3) of the 2018 Regulations. Accordingly, the application submitted by the petitioner dated 12.03.2021 could be considered by UGC on its own merits.
The court had disposed of the writ petition by passing the following orders and the directions:
- That there should be a direction to the second respondent to consider the application submitted by the petitioner dated 12.03.2021 seeking autonomous status for the said institution. While considering the said application independently on its own merits, the input supplied by the first respondent through the speaking order dated 08.03.2021, which is impugned, could also be taken into account.
- That apart, the law declared by this court in the Division Bench judgment in the matter of ‘The Anna University v. Mahendra Institute of Technology and another as confirmed by the Honourable Supreme Court should be borne in mind. Accordingly, the UGC could decide the application of the petitioner dated 12.03.2021 and pass final orders thereon within two months from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.
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