The Bombay High Court on Monday struck down the amended rule of University Grant Commission for appointment of college principal for 5 years as arbitrary and unconstitutional.
The petitioners have challenged the Constitutional validity of Clause 5.1.6(d) of the University Grants Commission Regulations on minimum qualifications for appointments of teachers and other academic staff in the Universities and Colleges and measures for Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education, 2010. The petitioners have prayed for striking down of the said Clause as being arbitrary and hence, violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The petitioners said that due to introduction of the said Clause and its subsequent amendment has resulted in converting the permanent post of Principal of a College to a tenure post of 5 years and up to a maximum of 10 years, as opposed to the earlier position, whereby a Principal once appointed could continue on the said post, till attaining age of superannuation i.e. 62 years. According to the petitioners, introduction of the said Clause is not only arbitrary, but, it has no rational nexus to the purported objective of improving the standards of higher education and administration of Colleges.
The impugned clause 5.1.6(d) reads as: –
“The term of appointment of College Principal shall be five years with eligibility for reappointment for one more term only after a Selection Committee process which shall take into account an external peer review, its recommendations and its outcomes. The framework of external peer review shall be specified by the UGC”.
Shri S.P. Bhandarkar appearing for the petitioners said that the aforesaid Clause deserves to be struck down as unconstitutional, because it reduced the post of Principal to a tenure post as opposed to the earlier regime, wherein the Principal could continue up to the age of superannuation of 62 years. It was further said that the Clause was discriminatory as the persons appointed in the post of Principal prior to introduction of the Clause could continue in the said post up to their superannuation, while those appointed after introduction of the said Clause could continue in the post for a period of five years and up to a maximum of 10 years, if at all they were reappointed for a further term of five years.
The petitioners claimed that their legitimate expectation of having a particular span of career in academic sphere was adversely affected by introduction of such tenure appointment in the post of Principal.
Shri A.S. Agrawal counsel for the respondent – University Grants Commission (UGC) submitted that none of the contentions raised on behalf of the petitioners were sustainable and the petitioners were not entitled, in the first place to challenge the aforesaid Clause of the Regulations because all of them had participated in the selection process knowing fully well that they were applying for appointment to the post of College Principal, which was a tenure post under the aforesaid Clause 5.1.6(d) of the Regulations. Thus, having participated in the selection process and enjoyed the post of College Principal on the basis of the aforesaid Clause, the petitioners were not justified in turning around and challenging the said Clause as being arbitrary and unsustainable.
He also said that a person appointed to the post of Principal would not be left high and dry after completion of tenure of 5 years or 10 years, as the case may be, because the post of Principal was a feeder post for appointments to other posts in the academic sphere, like Vice-Chancellor, Registrar, Director of Board of Examinations, Director of Knowledge Centre, etc. as provided under the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016. On this basis, on completion of the tenure, the person can move on to such posts and that, therefore, completion of tenure in the post of Principal before attaining the age of 62 years resulting in curtailment of service, could not be an argument available to the petitioners while challenging Clause 5.1.6(d) of the Regulations.
Acting upon the plea, the division bench comprising of Justice Z.A. Haq & Justice Manish Pitale, observed that not only is there absence of intelligible differentia to classify only the post of Principal for such treatment, but, the basis of such classification i.e. introducing excellence and keeping the appointees to the post of Principal “on their toes” to achieve higher standards of education, has no rational nexus with the object of the classification. Therefore, the aforesaid Clause fails the classic test envisaged under Article 14 of the Constitution of India and thereby, it is found to be violating the said Article, rendering it arbitrary and unsustainable.
The bench placed reliance on the Supreme Court decision passed in Navtej Singh Johar Vs. Union of India Ministry of Law and Justice Secretary, (2018) 10 SCC 1 which held that jurisprudence has evolved towards recognizing content of equality, which has emerged out of the shadow of classification. In other words, the action of the State can be held to be manifestly arbitrary, if it is found that such action leads to unfair treatment of the individual in every aspect to human endeavour.
The High Court while allowing the writ petition held that Clause 5.1.6(d) of the aforesaid Regulations, as amended in the year 2016 is arbitrary, unconstitutional and hence, it is struck down as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Consequently, those appointed in the post of Principal through due process of selection and satisfying the requirements of minimum qualifications, whose terms are continuing shall be entitled to continue in the post of Principal, without restriction of tenure introduced by way of Clause 5.1.6(d) of the aforesaid Regulations, subject to their service continuing in accordance with law. Their service would be subject to all other requirements of law as are applicable.
-India Legal Bureau