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UGC should review all deemed universities

University Grants Commission

By S Vaidhyasubramaniam

The role of judiciary has shaped the operational contours of government, business, civil society, etc. The essence of jurisprudence tests whether a proposed or committed act by a person or institution is right or wrong as per the law of the land. If right, the court upholds it and if wrong the court strikes it down. The court has under extreme circumstances rightly intervened to put back to normal course various abnormalities. Some are branded judicial overreach and some judicial responsibility. It depends on which side of the fence you are.

Without being on any side of the fence, I have silently observed the judicial and executive proceedings in the battle between deemed universities and the Tandon Committee. The power of the Union of India to constitute the Tandon Committee is the central issue that is intensely litigated in the Supreme Court. Ever since this case was tagged with Vipalav Sharma vs Union of India (142 of 2006) during 2009, 23 interim orders have been delivered by the Supreme Court. Another one was orally pronounced on January 9, 2014, and when available in print format will complete the dual dozen for this long duel. Some more is in the pipeline.

The dispensation of justice has been in dual mode and, to put it in Senior Advocate K M Vijayan’s words, its either “adjudicative or accommodative justice”. The litigation before the Supreme Court in the case of Tandon Committee is still awaiting the court’s final adjudication on the issue whether the composition of the committee by the Union of India is ultra vires. Parliament has conferred University Grants Commission (UGC) the statutory powers to review deemed universities which is now outsourced to Tandon Committee by MHRD. Pending adjudication, the Supreme Court rendered accommodative justice on many occasions maintaining status quo after hearing various parties without adjudicating the issue on the merits of the case. The January 9 order of accommodative justice, in my humble opinion, missed an opportunity to cleanse the deemed university system.

During detailed arguments on January 8 and 9, the Supreme Court ascertained the statutory role of UGC to review deemed universities when it took cognisance of the fact that MHRD did not place the Tandon Committee report before UGC to seek its advice and that the UGC was by-passed. Finally, the Supreme Court ordered UGC to review the entire ‘C’ category deemed universities and while doing so, the Bench raised a valid point that was hijacked by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG), Indira Jaising. The court was concerned about the validity of the Tandon Committee findings as it was based on 2009 data and wanted UGC to do a complete review of all the 120-plus deemed universities. The ASG shot down the idea immediately with her legal ammunition and the opportunity to clean the entire deemed university system was demolished right under the helpless eyes of the UGC counsel.

The court was right.The Tandon Committee report is old and committee members are reported to have resigned. Deemed universities categorised as A are not eternally excellent nor those categorised B can afford to be in a long state of animated suspension. Similarly, those in C are not permanently disabled. No entity, including Tandon Committee report, can outlive its expiry date and the time has come to set right the various anomalies manifest in Tandon Committee findings. UGC’s power to conduct a review flows from its parent Act and it must take clue from the court’s observation to exercise its statutory duty and review all the deemed universities and sanitise the system. (The New Indian Express)

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