04 th Oct October
Ravi Bhardwaj

Supreme Court gives severe blow to Deemed Universities, stays admission without AICTE Approval

In a significant development, the Supreme Court has given a severe blow to the Deemed Universities and passed a restraining order staying admission in Deemed Universities without prior approval from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

The Supreme Court vide its judgement in in case of Orissa Lift Irrigation Corp. Ltd. vs. Rabi Sankar Patro & Ors. [2017 (13) SCALE 148], while dealing with the issue of conducting of engineering courses in Distance Education mode, dealt with the aspect, as to whether, a Deemed to be University could start new courses in Engineering without the approval of AICTE. The Supreme Court for that purpose, categorised the Deemed Universities, as

  • The first category could be of a Deemed to be University, which was conferred such status for its excellence in a field of technological subject, is now desirous of introducing courses or programmes integrally connected with the area- in respect of which it was conferred Deemed to be University status. For example, an Engineering College which because of its excellence in the field was conferred Deemed University status, now wishes to introduce courses in subjects like Robotics or Nano Technology which are Engineering subjects and integrally connected with its own field of excellence.
  • The second category could be of a Deemed to be University which was conferred such status for its excellence in subjects which are completely un-related to the field in which new courses are sought to be introduced. For example an Institution engaged in teaching Fine Arts and Music, for its excellence in that chosen field- or for that matter an institution engaged in teaching Law had been conferred such status.

Can such a Deemed to be University claim immunity from regulatory control of AICTE and say that it is entitled, as a matter of right, to introduce courses in Engineering on the strength of the decision of Supeme Court in Bharathidasan University Case.

UGC had argued that Deemed Universities in the second category mentioned above are not entitled, as a matter of right, to introduce courses leading to degrees in Engineering without the approval of AICTE.

The Supreme Court came to the conclusion that a Deemed to be University in the second category mentioned hereinabove is still an institution of the stature of a “technical institution” and if it desires to introduce new courses it must seek prior approval of AICTE.

Relying on the Judgement, AICTE in its handbook included Deemed Universities within its regulatory control and issued public notice to that effect. It also issued Public Notice to that effect. Being aggrieved by the action of AICTE, the Deemed Universities in several states approached High Court of Madras, Rajasthan High Court, High Court of Punjab and High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, challenging the Public Notice of AICTE. Their main contention before the High Court was that the Judgement of the Supreme Court was related to Distance Education and had no applicability for regular courses.

In almost all the Writ Petitions filed by the different Deemed Universities, the High Courts were pleased to pass an order directing that AICTE will not take any coercive action, against the Petitioner Deemed Universities.

Considering the pendency of the matter in different High Courts in country, AICTE filed Transfer Petition in Supreme Court seeking a direction to transfer the pending writ petitions to the Delhi High Court. It also appears that the AICTE appearing Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh sought interim stay on admission as it was of the view that admission was against the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

On 23.03.2018, bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, R F Nariman and U U Lalit issued notice on the Transfer Petition and passed its order “In the meanwhile, there will stay on admissions without the approval of the AICTE.”

Next scheduled date in the matter is 11.05.2018.

EduLegaL View:

The order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court will have its impact across all states in view of the interim stay on admissions, requiring all deemed and deemed-to-be universities to seek approval of AICTE.

With all due respect to Supreme Court and being fully cognizant of the authority of the Supreme Court, I feel that passing such a blanket restraining order specially when admission session is in process, is bound to case huge damage to Deemed Universities.

Few Days ago, several Deemed Universities were granted autonomy from regulation and now this order nullifies the euphoria of autonomy, which was generated. Supreme Court itself had categorised the Deemed Universities in 2 categories to draw its conclusion and hence it would have been advisable to look into individual matter rather than a blanket order. It is bound to cause suspicion in the minds of the students.

Several Deemed Universities were having interim order in their favour, they ought to have been heard, before the protection was taken away. It would also have to be seen that what will be the next course of action by AICTE, because many Deemed Universities under the interim protection has not applied to AICTE and the deadline in any case for applying has expired. Further it also has to be seen as to whether this order will be applicable qua the Respondents or will apply in rem.

AICTE Act excludes Deemed Universities from its purview and hence carrying out a legislative amendment, AICTE had no authority to bring the Deemed Universities under its control. Argument Continues!