The Supreme Court has come down hard on the Ministry of Human Resource Development for its “intrusive attitude” and “unwarranted interference” in the functioning of the University Grants Commission (UGC).
The bench led by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha was hearing a petition filed by Symbiosis International University (SIU) against the UGC’s decision to block its proposal for setting up an off-campus centre in Hyderabad. The UGC had decided at its meeting on July 22 that the proposal could not be recommended in view of the HRD Ministry’s policy on deemed universities and their expansion. It had also considered reports by the UGC expert committee, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the Bar Council of India (BCI).
However, when asked by the bench, the UGC counsel disclosed that the final decision was taken after also taking note of the HRD Secretary’s comments. The court then asked why the HRD Ministry was involved in the decision-making process, since the UGC was expected to apply its mind independently.
“We can see there is unnecessary interference by the ministry. It is totally unwarranted. You (HRD) cannot thrust your decision on the UGC. UGC is an autonomous body and it needs to be left to work as such. What is the point of having a separate statutory body if the ministry has to control everything at every level?” said the bench also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman.
“Don’t poke your nose into everything. It is not required at all. UGC has to work independently and intrusion on your part is not right,” said the bench.
Appearing for the government, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said the UGC panel must have a member from the ministry. The court retorted: “You can be a member and also be an active member but you cannot thrust your decision.” The bench maintained that the expert committee had, in fact, given its opinion in favour of the SIU’s off-campus plan on fulfillment of certain conditions, but it appeared that the UGC went by the HRD Ministry’s views.
When Kumar said the UGC was merely a recommendatory body and the final decision rests with the government, the bench said the ministry could decide once the UGC sends its recommendations, but it could not scuttle the statutory process. The bench then quashed the UGC’s July 22 resolution, and asked it to assess the SIU’s request afresh “with an open mind” and take a decision in three weeks.
Meanwhile, SIU’s lawyer Ram Jethmalani sought permission to let the university go ahead with admissions, but the court turned down the request, saying the UGC and the government must first take a decision.