UP private university levies illegal fees, expels students for peaceful protest: Allahabad HC seeks affidavit
HRLN filed a writ petition on the behalf of students who were expelled by Galgotias University in Uttar Pradesh for participating in a peaceful protest against the levying of illegal fees by the university. The other respondents in the case were the state of UP (through principal secretary, higher education) and the District Magistrate, Gautam Budh Nagar. According to UGC guidelines, the minimum attendance requirement for regular courses is 75% failing which, students are not allowed to take their final examinations, which can mean a backlog of subject or even the loss of an academic year for the student. However, according to the petitioner students (who were all final year graduation students of Galgotias university), the university imposed a penalty of Rs 2,300 per subject that a student failed or had backlog in. The fine, which was called “debarring fees”, was levied separately on practical and theory sections of the same subject, which means that it could go up to Rs 4,600 per subject. A student with eight subjects per semester, a student could incur Rs 36,800 as fine. The petition noted that “debarred fees” implied registering for a summer course to fulfill the attendance requirement for the subject a student had a backlog in. However, the registration for the summer course was mandatory and like other universities, Galgotias University students were not allowed to join regular classes for the same subject with junior students to fulfill the attendance criteria. The petition noted that the UGC nowhere envisages such practice of debarred fees in its rules and regulations. Aggrieved by the unwarranted fine levied by the university, On May 4 and 5, 2017, some students conducted a peaceful protest against the practice, which was attended by thousands of students and student leaders from other universities who came to show solidarity for the movement. The peaceful protest was also covered by mainstream media outlets. The District Magistrate (DM) and Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) had come to the protest and the university then agreed to make debarred fees optional for students and to allow them to attend regular classes with a junior batch to make up for their attendance deficit. It circulated an email on May 15, 2017, to this effect. However, on May 25, 2017, the university went back on its promise and once again made the payment of debarred fees and enrollment in summer courses compulsory for students. The petition observed that the university had already levied exorbitant fees on its students -- over Rs 2 lakh per annum, Rs 10,000 as examination fees in addition to hostel fees. The petition said that the move to levy additional penalties by the university reflected their malafide intent to earn more money. Hereafter, the university filed a civil suit seeking an injunction against the students who had participated in the peaceful protest, due to which the students were not allowed to sit in the examinations despite repeated appeals to the university administration. After an appeal from the students, the Civil Judge held that such injunction would not be applicable against bonafide students of the university and that they were entitled to take their examinations. However, the students who had missed their exam were not given another opportunity to take it. Four months after the protest, in September, 2017, the university suspended 19 students, but such a delayed action suggested a calculated move on the university’s part and showed its objective of deterring students from holding any future peaceful protests to demand their rights. The suspension order also left the students devastated and put their careers on stake. Despite tendering written apologies to the university, nine of the 19 students were expelled in October and were banned from entering the university premises. The petition noted that these students had not even been given a chance to explain themselves before a disciplinary committee, which is against the principle of natural justice, “Audi Altrem Partem” which means that both the sides must be heard before arriving at a conclusion. The students then wrote to the DM, Gautam Budh Nagar, to look into the matter, who then summoned university administration to seek clarifications, but the administration repeatedly ignored the summons. The DM then wrote to the chairman, UGC, asking them to reconsider the students’ expulsion. The HRLN petition prayed for the court to direct the university to revoke the students’ expulsion order and to allow them to sit for examinations. It also asked the court to direct the university to make debarred fees and enrolment in summer courses optional for students. In response, the court asked the respondents to file a counter affidavit, which they have, and the final case hearing in the case is pending.