The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the Delhi University to file its response to a Congress students’ wing leader’s challenge to his debarment for alleged involvement in the screening of a banned BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the campus, observing the DU order does not reflect independent application of mind.
Justice Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav granted three days’ time to DU to file its counter affidavit after saying the disciplinary authority ought to have afforded an opportunity to Lokesh Chugh, Ph.D scholar and NSUI national secretary, to be heard and considered his stand.
“There has to be an independent application of mind by DU. It is not reflected in the order. You are a statutory authority. You are a university. Impugned order does not reflect application of mind. Impugned order must reflect the reasoning,” the judge remarked.
The petitioner had approached the high court earlier this month challenging the varsity’s decision to debar him for one year for his alleged involvement in the screening of the documentary-India: The Modi Question- related to the Godhra riots. The documentary was screened earlier this year.
Advocate M Rupal, appearing for the DU, furnished the original record pertaining to the proceedings against the petitioner before the court and said all circumstances were taken into account by the authorities before passing the debarment order.
The court, however, said the university “was trying to supplement reasoning” at this stage and asked the authorities to file a reply while listing the case for further consideration on April 24.
“You file your counter because you seek to rely on certain material,” the judge said.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Vivek Tankha, who represented the petitioner, emphasised he was not given an opportunity to be heard. They contended the order does not reflect the material on which it was based.
They told the court the petitioner is required to submit his thesis before April 30.
The court said it will protect the interests of the parties before it and, if required, it can always direct acceptance of the thesis at a later stage.
The petitioner, also represented by lawyer Naman Joshi, has claimed in his plea he was not even present at the site of the alleged screening and the authorities had acted against him with a “premeditated mind”. He has also sought permission to submit his thesis and take university examinations during the pendency of the petition.
“On 27.01.2023, there was a protest organized by few students at the Faculty of Arts (Main Campus), University of Delhi. During this protest, an allegedly banned BBC Documentary i.e. ‘India: the Modi Question’ was screened for public viewing. At the relevant time, the Petitioner was not present at the protest site, neither had facilitated/participated in the screening in any manner,” the petition has said.
He has said to his “utter shock and dismay”, a show cause notice was issued to him by the DU proctor for his “alleged involvement in law and order disturbance during the screening of the BBC documentary” and, subsequently, the DU registrar issued him a memorandum in March imposing a penalty of debarment from taking any examinations for one year.
He has said the order is liable to be set aside for absence of finding on any specific ground of indiscipline as well as for non application of mind and violation of principles of natural justice.
The petitioner has said he was not afforded any opportunity to explain his conduct and although the memorandum suggested there was a ban on the BBC documentary by the government of India, there was no such prohibition on screening.
“Respondent No. 3 (Proctor) while issuing the SCN (show cause notice) operated in a premeditated manner in so far as she had voiced her public opinion against the protests…despite there being no material on record to show Petitioner’s involvement in the screening of the BBC Documentary, the petitioner has been debarred for a period of one year,” the petition has stated.
“The Impugned Memorandum notably suggests that there is a ban on showing the BBC documentary by Govt. of India, which was taken cognizance by the Proctor, University of Delhi. However, to the knowledge of the Petitioner, there is no prohibition on screening of the BBC documentary,” it added.
The petitioner has also alleged bias against him on the ground that six other students allegedly involved in the same incident have been asked to submit only a written apology while he has been debarred.
The plea also said police detained a few students over the alleged screening but the petitioner was neither detained nor charged with any form of incitement or violence or disturbance of peace.
“The petitioner is a sincere and meritorious student of DU, and has an exemplary academic record. Therefore the Impugned Memorandum is likely to rob the Petitioner of various academic and professional opportunities. Surely, alleged screening of the BBC Documentary cannot be a reason to deny the Petitioner a chance at academic excellence,” it has said.