Sameer Abdul Lathif vs. State of Telangana & Ors.

Sameer Abdul Lathif vs. State of Telangana & Ors.
In the High Court of Telangana
W.P Nos.2152 and 2277 of 2020
Petitioner
Sameer Abdul Lathif, M.Avinash Reddy
Respondents
State of Telangana & Ors
Date of Judgement
11th March 2020
Bench
The Honourable Sri Justice T. Vinod Kumar

Facts of the Case

This case is the disposal of two petitions. The petitioner of WP. No. 2152 of 2020 was a first-year student in the National Institute of Technology, Warangal in B.tech.  As the course was a residential course, the petitioner was allotted the room of B2-05 in the boys’ hostel. On the day of the incident which is 26th -27th October, around 1:30 hours , the security guards found the petitioner outside and when stopped as it was late hours, the petitioner was   holding a small piece of folded paper, which was supposedly had Ganja,  and further the petitioner was in a drowsy state. Once he was stopped, he stated that he was from the room of B2-05 and a senior asked him to give the folded paper to some other student, and also stated that smoking was going on in the Room A2-41.

On 28th October 2019, the petitioner was asked to appear before the committee of the institute, to provide with an explanation of the incident, and his explanation as it was against the code of conduct of the institute. The petitioner unconditionally accepted the breach and also on 15th November 2019, submitted an undertaking that such actions will not be repeated again.

The petitioner of WP. No. 2277 of 2020 is also a first-year student in the institute and he was one of the students in the Room A2-41, when the security went to check the room, the room contained Ganja, there was smoke in the room and the students were in a drowsy state. On 28th October 2019, the petitioner was called for a disciplinary committee and all of the students in the room accepted their consumption of the prohibited material and expressed their apologies and that they wouldn’t commit the same mistake again.

However, even after the petitioners repenting their mistakes, the same was not considered by the disciplinary committee and it have a one-year suspension to the petitioners along with a fine of one lakh rupees.

The petitioner from WP. No. 2277 of 2020 in this court challenged the order, but the court dismissed the same, as the appeal to the order was pending before the senate as per the code of the institute, and thus directed the 4th respondent to dispose of the matter in a timely manner as the students were not permitted to attend the classes.  

The senate of the institute however, upheld the order and rejected the appeal, and aggrieved by the order, the present petitions have been filed.                                                   

Issues

  1. Whether the order of the senate is biased and violates the principles of natural justice as the members disciplinary committee were also members of the senate?
  2. Whether the order of the institute is disproportionate to the Act committed by the petitioners?

Arguments advanced

Arguments for the Petitioners

  1. The petitioner contends that the existence of members from the disciplinary committee in the senate, lead to bias and this is against the principles of natural justice.
  2. The security guards on whose statements the petitioners were charged, were not examined, nor were the petitioners given the opportunity to cross check their statement.
  3. This is a crucial aspect, as the petitioners have been given a year long suspension, which has an adverse effect on their career, and this is violative of Article 21 which is right to life and personal liberty.
  4. The petitioners claimed that they were told that if they accept their guilt, they will be let off by a reprimand by the disciplinary committee. The fact that that no action was taken between 28th October to 15th November 2019, shows that the institute had the view of taking a lenient view.
  5. However, on 18th November the matter was reported by the local press, and the university on 22nd November passed the order for a year long suspension.
  6. The petitioners further, stated that they signed an undertaking on 15th November 2019 in which they expressed their remorse and also agreed to do social work, which shows the approach the university was taking. If the university was not in the view of taking a lenient action then, the petitioner would not have signed such an undertaking and would have faced an enquiry for their actions and defended the same.
  7. The students are young, and the order has put their future at stake, and the counsels for petitioner argue that a reformative approach should be taken.
  8. The judgements of Jaddish Prasad Saxena v. State of Madhya Bharat[1], Lanco- Rani (JV) v. National Highways Authority of India limited – Delhi High Court[2] etc were stated by the petitioners to state that the order of the respondents to suspend them for a year was unjust and improper.

Arguments for the Respondents

  1. The respondent contends that the students were not admitted into the college in the general way, but they were NRI students through the Direct Admission of Students Abroad scheme by the Ministry of Human resources.
  2. They also state that the students were given a suspension of one year at their admission of guilt and their request of not being handed over to the legal authorities.
  3. The students who were caught supplying Ganga were expelled and few left the institute after taking transfer certificate. The petitioners being given a one-year suspension thus, cannot be considered to be excessive.
  4. The discipline of the students is an internal matter of the institute and the court should be cautious and reluctant to interfere unless the injustice is prima facie. The punishment is at the discretion of the institute and cannot be stated to be excessive and for the same the case of Satish Nainala v. English & Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad & Others.[3]
  5. The senate consisted of 55 members and the mere fact that six members from the disciplinary committee cannot be said to be biased and further they attended to provide with the details of the disciplinary proceeding.
  6. Since the petitioners admitted their guilt and the same was also video graphed, the need to examine the security personnel was not needed.
  7. The petitioners could not have enrolled themselves in the university post the order, and even if the court passes an order, they would not be able to obtain the 80 per cent of attendance needed to write the exams, and the order of the court would be a mere formality. Further the court does not have the authority to interfere in matters of attendance as held in the matter of B. Yugandhar v. Principal, Kuppam Engineering College and another.[4]

Held

  1. There should be a balance between the court to punish the wrong doer so that more people do not indulge in the same acts and the fact that the students just received freedom, various distractions and sometimes the act committed by them completely cannot be attributed to a person’s wilful wrongdoings.
  2. The section 2 of the Appendix II of the university’s code of conduct, it states that the consumption of narcotic drugs and any intoxication material is strictly prohibited and as per section 3 of the Appendix II disciplinary sanctions can be both minor and major. However, the actions which attract major or minor sanctions depend on the discretion of the Authority.
  3. The students were first year students and have no past indiscretions so it cannot be said that their actions warranted an imposition of a major sanction. However, the after looking into the disciplinary actions and the undertakings taken on 15th November 2019, it can be inferred that the authority were going to take a lenient action.
  4. In the disciplinary proceedings the student an occupant from room A2-41 speaking on behalf of the students stated that the least the committee can so is to suspend them for one semester and the students were directed to submit a request letter of undertaking. Thus, the contention of the petitioners that the respondents changed their stance from giving a minor sanction before the print media report is rejected.
  5. Although from the proceedings of 15th November it can be seen that the committee was trying to find out the reasons for use of the substance and was also suggesting  de-addiction centres. It is unclear as to why between 15th November and 22nd November the suspension was increased to a year.
  6. Also, the presence of the disciplinary committee cannot be said to against the principles of “Nemo debet esse judex in propria sua causa” which means that no person cannot be a judge of his own case, as they were there to brief the senate, and had no personal bias against the petitioner. If the petitioners had any objection, they could have raised the objections, but they did not do so and it clearly is an after thought which cannot be accepted.
  7. The contention of the respondent that the court cannot interfere with the matters of short fall of attendance can be sustained as the petitioner are clearly diligent as they have filed an appeal to the senate as per the code. It was the senate which took time to adjudicate the matter.
  8. The petitioners would be entitled for a relief, if the suspension of one year is found to be in compliance with the prescribed procedure. It is the action of the respondents which restrained the petitioners from attending the classes and it is not by their own will.
  9. The use of narcotic drugs is not a rise in the in educational institutes and the following steps are suggested being taken by the university to curb them:
  10. To conduct anonymous surveys to check the level of drug use. Students who are addicted can be identified and asked to speak to their parents or medical professionals.
  11. Educational institutes can also have anti-drug clubs to promote drug free life among their students.
  12. Educational institutes can have psychiatrists and psychologists on campus at all times.
  13. To set up a de-addiction centre in the institutes so that the students can be provided with the required treatments so as to stop them from ruining their career.
  14. To work with local NGO’s to draft a policy to tackle drug abuse and to keep up with the ever-changing society. etc.
  15. In the present matter after looking into the facts and circumstances of the case, a reformative action should be taken and not a deterrent or punitive action. The court modifies the order of the institute from barring the student to not appear from the not attending the classes for a whole year to the end of the semester which is similar to the view of the disciplinary committee on 15th November 2010. This is subject to few conditions.
  16. The relief granted is only for the present unique case and has no precedent value.

“The views of the authors are personal

Reference

[1] AIR 1961 SC 1070

[2] 235 (2016) DLT 509

[3] 2016(4) ALD 37

[4] 2008 (2) ALT 529

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I am Andey Bharathi, a student of BBA.LLB at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. As an aspiring to be lawyer, the fields of criminal law, family law, intellectual property law and the insolvency and bankruptcy code. As a bibliophile I am interested in any books and I have special interest in mystery and fiction books. In my free time I paint, mainly oil and acrylic paintings and also listen to music. I also have interest in history and often browse the internet and books to read about the history of various civilisations, cultures etc.