The South Asian University (SAU) enjoys the status of an international organisation which has “privileges and immunities” and a writ petition against it is not maintainable, the Delhi High Court has ruled.
In a judgement uploaded on Wednesday, Justice Chandra Dhari Singh noted that being an institution deriving its powers from an intergovernmental agreement of April 4, 2007, SAU is an international organisation where the Indian government does not hold any control over its functioning, administration and finances.
The court’s order came while dismissing a petition by several associate professors in various departments of SAU against their suspension following the report of a fact-finding committee about their role in a protest at the university.
“The court is of the considered opinion that the present writ is not maintainable as the respondent University enjoys the status of an international organization having privileges and immunities and the same is evident from the headquarters agreement signed by the member countries of SAARC, the SAU Act enacted by the Parliament of India and the notification issued by the Ministry of External Affairs on 15th January, 2009,” said the court.
Justice Singh said the court does not agree with the petitioner’s stand that SAU was “State” for the purpose of adjudication of dispute by the high court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
The court said the petition was liable to be dismissed for being non-maintainable and advised the petitioners to approach the appropriate forum i.e. the Arbitral Tribunal for adjudication of the dispute on merits.
The court observed that although the land on which SAU was established was provided by the Government of India which also committed to providing funds, it still does not enjoy a dominant position where it can be said that the functioning of SAU was controlled by the government in any manner.
“Therefore, the respondent University, even though created out of an Act of the Parliament, is not in control of the Government of India in any manner rather the role of the Government is limited to facilitation of establishment of the said University and therefore the actions of the respondent University are not accountable to the Government of India,” the court noted.
The court also rejected the petitioners’ contention that the privileges and immunities were restricted only to the institution’s president and its faculty members and not the University itself and said that the privileges granted by the Ministry of External Affairs, through a 2009 notification, extended to SAU as well and protected it from “getting sued by the employees in the Court of law established in India”.
“The intent for protection of the International organizations stems from the idea of non-controlling nature of a particular member country where the chances of controlling the functioning of the said entity are minimized,” the court said.
“In order to ensure independent functioning of such an institution, it is pertinent to protect them from any litigation in the jurisdictions of a member state. In light of the same, it is crystal clear that the respondent University enjoys the privileges granted to any other international institution and the same extends in the similar way as extended to other international entities in our Country,” it added.