BY: APOORVA MANDHANI NOVEMBER 3, 2017 4:05 PM LIVE LAW. IN
The Supreme Court has suspended the Engineering degrees granted between 2001 and 2005 to all graduates through distance learning by JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Rajasthan (JRN), Institute of Advanced Studies in Education, Rajasthan (IASE) and Allahabad(AAI)
The Bench comprising Justice A.K. Goel and Justice U.U. Lalit ruled that the degrees would remain suspended till the students pass an examination under the joint supervision of AICTE-UGC. It further added that “every single advantage” on the basis of the degree would also stand suspended till then.
For this purpose, the Court has directed the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) to conduct appropriate written and practical tests for the concerned students. The entire expenditure for conducting the tests has been directed to be recovered from the concerned Universities.
The students would get only two chances to pass the exam, failing which their degrees will stand recalled and cancelled. Further, in case the students do not wish to appear in such tests, the Court directed refund of the money deposited by them towards tuition and other charges. The students have been given time till 15 January to exercise the option to take the tests.
The degrees obtained after the year 2005, for courses through distance learning have, however, been cancelled. The Court clarified, “Any benefit which a candidate has secured as a result of such degrees in Engineering in the nature of promotion or advancement in career shall also stand recalled. However, if any monetary benefit was derived by such candidates that monetary benefit or advantage will not be recovered by the concerned departments or employers.”
The entire amount paid by such students has been directed to be refunded by 31 May, 2018. The decision was rendered after the Court found that the three Universities had, before 2005, imparted education in technical fields through distance learning without obtaining approval from the concerned authorities. Further, while ex-postfacto permission was obtained after 2005, this permission was declared illegal by the Court, for lack of adherence to the principles laid down in this regard.
For those who had enrolled during the academic sessions 2001-2005, the Court noted that since 2004, the UGC Guidelines gave liberty to the concerned Universities to apply for the ex-postfacto approval and observed, “the matter is required to be considered with some sympathy so that interest of those students who were enrolled during the academic sessions 2001- 2005 is protected”.
This ‘sympathy’ was, however, not shown to those who had enrolled after 2005, observing that the “Policy Statements as well as warnings issued from time to time were absolutely clear” with regard to the lack of sanction to such Courses.
The Court was hearing two groups of Appeals– one arising from a judgment passed by Orissa High Court and the other arising from a decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The litigation began when the Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited (OLIC) refused promotion to an in-service graduate Engineer, contending that the degrees obtained by the concerned candidates through distance education from JRN were not recognized degrees. It had, therefore, contended that they could not be considered Graduate Engineers eligible for the benefits. The Orissa High Court had, however, disagreed with OLIC, directing it to consider the candidates as in-service Engineers.
The Petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court had sought a direction that degrees in Engineering obtained through distance education from certain Universities including JRN be declared invalid for the purpose of obtaining Government jobs in the State. The prayer was allowed by the Court.
The two High Courts had, therefore, rendered conflicting judgments, prompting the Supreme Court to take up the matters together.
Examine whether Deemed Universities can offer such distance education programs, the Court took note of the notifications, circulars and guidelines issued in this regard and observed that the Deemed Universities in the case at hand had sought ex-postfacto approval for their distance courses. None of these Universities had taken any prior permission from the University Grants Commission (UGC), AICTE and Distance Education Council (DEC).
While the approval was granted by the DEC, the Court ruled that the DEC was not empowered to grant such permissions without consulting the AICTE. It ruled that not only did the DEC lack jurisdiction to grant the approval, but that it had also granted the same without any inspection.
“This leads us to conclude that the permissions granted by DEC in the first instance allowing the Deemed to be Universities in question to introduce courses leading to the award of degrees in engineering were illegal and opposed to Law,” the Court ruled.
It, thereafter, went on to accept the view taken by Punjab and Haryana High Court and set aside the judgment rendered by the Orissa High Court.
In the 118 page judgment, the Apex Court lamented the commercialization of education and highlighted the need for an oversight and regulatory mechanism for distance education degrees, especially those relating to technical education.
It then reiterated its directions, summarizing them as follows:
I. 1994 AICTE Regulations, do apply to Deemed to be Universities and the Deemed to be Universities in the present matter were not justified in introducing any new courses in Technical Education without the approval of AICTE.
II Insofar as candidates enrolled during the Academic Sessions 2001-2005, in the present case the ex post facto approvals granted by UGC and their concerned authorities are set aside.
III Consequent to aforesaid direction No.II, all the degrees in Engineering awarded by concerned Deemed to be Universities stand suspended.
IV The AICTE shall devise the modalities to conduct an appropriate test/tests as indicated in Para 47 above. The option be given to the concerned students whose degrees stand suspended by 15.01.2018 to appear at the test/tests to be conducted in accordance with the directions in Para 47 above. Students be given not more than two chances to clear test/tests and if they do not successfully clear the test/tests within the stipulated time, their degrees shall stand cancelled and all the advantages shall stand withdrawn as stated in Paras 46 and 47 above. The entire expenditure for conducting the test/tests shall be recovered from the concerned Deemed to be Universities by 31.03.2018.
V Those students who do not wish to exercise the option, shall be refunded entire money deposited by them towards tuition fee and other charges within one month of the exercise of such option. Needless to say their degrees shall stand cancelled and all advantages/benefits shall stand withdrawn as mentioned in Para 47.
VI If the students clear the test/tests within the stipulated time, all the advantages/benefits shall be restored to them and their degrees will stand revived fully.
VII As regards students who were admitted after the Academic Sessions 2001-2005, their degrees in Engineering awarded by the concerned Deemed to be Universities through distance education mode stand recalled and be treated as cancelled. All benefits secured by such candidates shall stand withdrawn as indicated in Para 48 above. However, the entire amount paid by such students to the concerned Deemed to be Universities towards tuition fees and other expenditure shall be returned by the concerned Deemed to be Universities by 31.05.2018, as indicated in Para 48.
VIII By 31.05.2018 all the concerned Deemed to be Universities shall refund the sums indicated above in VII and an appropriate affidavit to that extent shall be filed with UGC within a week thereafter.
IX We direct the CBI to carry out thorough investigation into the conduct of the concerned officials who dealt with the matters and went about the granting permissions against the policy statement, as indicated in Para 49 above and into the conduct of institutions who abused their position to advance their commercial interest illegally. Appropriate steps can thereafter be taken after culmination of such investigation.
X The UGC shall also consider whether the Deemed to be University status enjoyed by JRN, AAI, IASE and VMRF calls for any withdrawal and conduct an inquiry in that behalf by 30.06.2018 as indicated above. If the moneys, as directed above are not refunded to the concerned students that factor shall be taken into account while conducting such exercise.
XI We restrain all Deemed to be Universities to carry on any courses in distance education mode from the Academic Session 2018- 2019 onwards unless and until it is permissible to conduct such courses in distance education mode and specific permission are granted by the concerned statutory/regulatory authorities in respect of each of those courses and unless the off-campus Centres/Study Centres are individually inspected and found adequate by the concerned Statutory Authorities. The approvals have to be course specific.
XII The UGC is further directed to take appropriate steps and implement Section 23 of the UGC Act and restrain Deemed to be Universities from using the word ‘University’ within one month from today.
XIII The Union of India may constitute a three members Committee comprising of eminent persons who have held high positions in the field of education, investigation, administration or law at national level within one month. The Committee may examine the issues indicated above and suggest a road map for strengthening and setting up of oversight and regulatory mechanism in the relevant field of higher education and allied issues within six months. The Committee may also suggest oversight mechanism to regulate the Deemed to be Universities. The Union of India may examine the said report and take such action as may be considered appropriate within one month thereafter and file an affidavit in this Court of the action taken on or before August 312018. The matter shall be placed for consideration of this aspect on 11.09.2018.”