Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Delhi HC overturns South Asian University’s expulsion of PhD Students, citing violation of natural justice

Bhim Raj

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday overturned the South Asian University’s November 2022 decision to expel two PhD students, Umesh Joshi and Bhim Raj. The students were expelled for their involvement in a protest demanding a stipend hike in 2020.

The petitioners, Bhimraj and Joshi had filed a plea contesting the expulsion orders and the immediate declaration of them being out of bounds.

Bhimraj, a Dalit PhD student, however, secured a scholarship for an MPhil in Law at Oxford University and is currently pursuing the same. 

Joshi on the other hand was supposed to submit his PhD thesis by the end of the last year- 2023 but couldn’t following his expulsion from the university.

Both the students along with other suspended students decided to approach the Delhi High Court individually. 

A single judge bench of Justice C. Hari Shankar observed that the facts of the case and issues involved were “largely identical” to those which were already discussed in the court in a plea moved by another SAU student, Apoorva YK.

In Apoorva’s case, the Delhi High Court reversed the SAU administration’s decision to expel students on January 18th and stated, “The expulsion decision is also in stark contravention of most elementary principles of natural justice and fair play. It was a sham, with a prima facie pre-determined intent to expel the petitioners from the university rolls.”

The court said on Tuesday that the decision in Apoorva would apply in this case as well.

The court also noted that Apoorva was served a show cause notice but Raj and Joshi were not even given a chance to explain themselves before the SAU administration expelled them.

Justice Shankar maintained that the principle of “audi alteram partem” is one of the most important principles wherein a party has to be given a chance to present his/her position before a decision against it is taken.

Bhimraj who is now pursuing M.Phil at Oxford University sees this judgement as “a source of relief” and “a significant victory of students’ movements.”

Speaking to Maktoob, Bhimraj said, “The expulsion and the way the University humiliated us traumatized me a lot. It manifested itself in unexpected ways, affecting my day-to-day life.”

He said, “The demands raised by the student movement regarding the increase in scholarships and student membership in anti-harassment committees are yet to be fulfilled.”

He also mentioned the case of another student and his friend Ammar Ahmad who suffered two cardiac arrests during the protest and is yet to recover completely. 

Bhimraj hopes that the new SAU President will look into the demands for which the students protested, take care of Ammar’s medical expenses, and revoke the suspension orders of the Associate Professors accused of inciting the protesting teachers.

“By not acting in “good faith” (as observed by the Delhi High Court), the previous administration strained the relationships of various stakeholders and tarnished the University’s reputation. I hope the new SAU President will take disciplinary action against the members of the previous administration for illegally expelling the students”, added Bhimraj.

He also stressed a need to create a democratic academic space to produce critical minds inside the educational institutions. 

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