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Ragging: Allahabad HC sets aside single judge order, orders fresh inquiry against student

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The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has set aside an order passed by a single judge, saying it is common knowledge that incidents of ragging and other misconduct by seniors in institutions of vocational studies sometimes have such a deep and long-lasting adverse impact on junior students, that it becomes difficult for them to come out of the trauma and agony which may sometimes hamper their studies and in turn spoil their future as well.

The Court has no doubt in their mind that the menace of ragging is to be dealt with the sternest of measures by authorities of the institution as also by various regulatory authorities like the Universities and the National Medical Commission.

The Division Bench of Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Saurabh Srivastava passed this order while hearing a special appeal filed by Principal/Chief Medical Superintendent Saraswati Medical College, Unnao and Ors.

The special appeal has been preferred challenging the order dated 13.09.2022 passed by the Single Judge, whereby the petition filed by the respondent no1 (petitioner) therein has been allowed and the order dated 25.7.2022 passed by the appellant-Institution whereby respondent no1 (petitioner) was rusticated temporarily for a period of three months as intern in the Institution has been set aside.

The Single Judge has also directed that the certificate which may be awarded to the respondent no 1-petitioner on completion of internship shall not record that he was found guilty of ragging in the Institution.

The submission of the counsel for the appellants is that the finding recorded by the Single Judge that there was no material on record, which could form the basis of guilt of ragging against the respondent no 1-petitioner, is not correct in as much as on record there was enough material to form the opinion that he was guilty of ragging.

It has further been argued by the counsel for the appellants that while conducting the inquiry which culminated in passing of the order impugned in the writ petition before the Single Judge, the provisions contained in the statutory regulations known as National Medical Commission (Prevention and Prohibition of Ragging in Medical Colleges and Institutions) Regulations 2021 were meticulously followed and as such the finding recorded by the learned Single Judge Bench that the respondent no 1-petitioner was not given any opportunity to confront with the inquiry report, is misplaced for the reason that under the procedure prescribed in the said Regulations no such prescription is available.

It is also argued that the finding recorded by the Single Judge that no show-cause notice inviting explanation/reply to the inquiry report was given, also does not have any bearing in the matters of inquiries to be conducted in terms of the Regulations 2021 for the reason that the Regulations do not contemplate any such procedure.

Lastly, Apoorva Tiwari, counsel representing the appellant Institution, has submitted that in any eventuality in case any flaw in the procedure followed for conducting the inquiry was found by the Single Judge, right of the Institution to complete the inquiry as per the legal procedure could not have been curtailed and in the case the conduct of the respondent no1-petitioner warranted that some exemplary action against the respondent no1-petitioner ought to have been taken in order to fulfil the aims and objectives for which Regulations 2021 have been framed.

On the other hand, Akash Dixit, counsel representing the respondent no 1-petitioner, submitted that in view of the admission made by the appellant-Institution that the respondent no 1-petitioner was not confronted with the inquiry report on the basis of which impugned action has precipitated, the order passed by the Single Judge, which is under appeal herein, does not warrant any interference by the court in the special appeal.

He has also stated that as a matter of fact enough material was brought to the notice of the Single Judge depicting the clear bias of the parties/Management of the appellant-Institution against the respondent no 1-petitioner and it is only on account of this bias and mala fide that the impugned action against him whereby he was rusticated temporarily for a period of three months had actuated. In this view of the matter, the submission is that the special appeal is liable to be dismissed at its threshold.

The Court noted,

The respondent no 1-petitioner after completing his 5-years study in MBBS Course got himself enrolled as an Intern, which is compulsory for award of MBBS degree.

On 19.7.2022, the College administration received a complaint by two students of 2020 batch, who were pursuing their MBBS Course in the appellant-Institution, against the respondent no 1-petitioner with the allegation that the respondent no 1-petitioner has not only misbehaved with them, but as a matter of fact on account of the threat extended by him to the complainants they were not feeling secure to complete their studies.

The complainants, thus, requested that appropriate action be taken against the respondent no 1-petitioner. On the said complaint the Chief Medical Superintendent-cum-Officiating Principal of the appellant-Institution issued a notice, whereby a specific committee comprising of one Chairman, One Secretary, four Members and two Special Invitees was constituted in terms of the provisions contained in Regulation 23(1) of the 2021 Regulations.

Constitution of the said specific committee was based on an urgent investigation report, which was approved by the Chairman, Anti Ragging Committee of the Institution. Consequently, by means of a notice dated 20.7.2021, intimation was given to the complainants, respondent no 1-petitioner as also three other students, who are said to be witnesses and were pursuing their IIIrd Year MBBS Course, to participate in the proceedings of the Committee, which was held on 21.7.2020.

On 21.7.2022 in the proceedings before the specific committee, statements of the complainants, those of the witnesses and also that of the respondent no 1-petitioner were recorded. The CCTV footage of 19.7.2022 at 12.30 p.m was also summoned by the specific committee. The Specific Committee on a consideration of the material which could be gathered by it submitted its report on 21.7.2022 and based on the said report decision by the Anti-Ragging Committee was taken in its meeting held on 22.7.2022, whereby it was resolved that the respondent no 1-petitioner be rusticated temporarily for a period of three months from his internship in the appellant Institution.

On the basis of this decision and recommendation of the Anti-Ragging Committee dated 22.7.2022 that the order dated 25.5.2022 was passed by the Head of the Institution which became the subject matter of challenge before the Single Judge.

The Court further noted that the Regulations, on one hand, provide for adequate measures to check the menace of ragging, which is rampant in the Medical Colleges/other institutions and, on the other hand, it also provides for taking due care in conducting the inquiry against the students in respect of whom complaint or charges of ragging is received.

The Court observed that whether or not the material available on record forms/constitutes a conduct on the part of the respondent no 1-petitioner, amounting to ragging, is an issue which this court while deciding the special appeal does not intend to delve upon for the reason that it is apparent that the respondent no 1-petitioner was not only not confronted with all the material on the basis of which the impugned action has precipitated against him, but also that, in our considered opinion, he has been deprived of adequate opportunity in terms of the provisions contained in Regulation 23(2) of the regulations 2021 for putting forth his case.

There is no denial of the fact that neither the report submitted by the specific committee nor the report submitted by the Anti-Ragging Committee on the basis of which final decision was taken by the Principal of the Institution on 25.7.2022 was provided to the respondent no 1-petitioner.

The Court also noted that even copies of the statements made by the complainants as also by the witnesses were not provided to the respondent no 1-petitioner.

The Court stated that, regulation 23(2), clearly prescribes that inquiry/ investigation is to be held giving adequate opportunity to the student/ students, accused of ragging. It also clearly provides that inquiry/ investigation is to be held in a manner which shall uphold the principles of Natural Justice. Holding institutional inquiry/investigation by the specific committee in terms of Regulation 23 may not be treated equivalent to a criminal trial, however, since the Regulations 2021, contain an unambiguous and unequivocal mandate that such inquiry/ investigation shall be held upholding the principles of Natural Justice and giving adequate opportunity to the student accused of ragging, in our considered opinion, certain facets of principles of Natural Justice while conducting such an institutional inquiry need to be followed in every such inquiry/investigation.

The Court said that it is common knowledge that incidents of ragging and other misconducts by seniors in institutions of vocational studies sometimes have such a deep and long-lasting adverse impact on the junior students that it becomes difficult for such students to come out of the trauma and agony which may sometimes hamper his studies and in turn spoil his future as well. In this view of the matter, we have no doubt in our mind that the menace of ragging is to be dealt with the strictest of measures by the authorities of the institution as also by various regulatory authorities like the Universities and the National Medical Commission. It is for the fulfillment of such objectives that Regulations 2021 have been framed.

The Court further said that, so far as the facts of the case are concerned, it is noticeable that the respondent no 1-petitioner was neither provided the copies of the statements of the complainant/witnesses nor was he ever confronted with the copy of the report said to have been submitted by the Anti-Ragging Committee to the Head of the Institution and accordingly we are of the opinion that the inquiry as contemplated in Regulation 23 of 2021 Regulations 2021 against the respondent no 1-petitioner be conducted afresh by furnishing him copy of the complaint, statement of the complainants and witnesses made before the Specific Committee on 21.7.2022 and inviting his reply to the same and permitting him to make statement in his defence.

Thereafter, the appellant-Institution shall complete the inquiry in terms of Regulation 2021 as also keeping in view the observations.

“The entire exercise under this order shall be completed within 15 days. The respondent no1-petitioner is directed to cooperate fully with the authorities of the institution and in case at any point of time he is found not cooperating with the authorities of the appellant-Institution, the Institution shall proceed ahead in terms of the provisions of the regulations.

The order under appeal dated 13.9.2022 passed by the Single Judge is hereby set aside. The decision of the Principal of the Institution, dated 25.7.2022, shall abide by the decision which may be taken finally in terms of the order,” the Court ordered.

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