“Violation of natural justice”: Delhi HC quashes expulsion orders of two SAU PhD students

Justice C Hari Shankar, who also previously heard the case of Apoorva Y, an LLM student from the university, noted the similarities in both cases  
Here's what the Delhi HC says | (Pic: EdexLive + Sourced)
Here's what the Delhi HC says | (Pic: EdexLive + Sourced)

After it quashed the expulsion orders of Apoorva Y, a Master's of Law student from the South Asian University (SAU) on January 18, the Delhi High Court also overturned the expulsion of two other students of SAU – Umesh Joshi and Bhimraj M – on January 30. 

Umesh and Bhimraj were both a part of the protest against the reduction of stipends by the administration of SAU and subsequently, the protest against the expulsion and alleged institutional harassment of Ammar Ahmed, a second-year Master of Arts (MA) student at the Sociology Department of SAU. They were expelled and declared out-of-bounds by the university administration in November 2022. 

Following this, the two students approached the Delhi High Court, contesting against the expulsion orders. 

While Bhimraj, a PhD student at the time of his expulsion secured a scholarship for an MPhil in Law at Oxford University, the expulsion left Umesh, who was supposed to submit his PhD thesis towards the end of last year, in limbo. 

Naturally, this order from the Delhi High Court is a source of relief for both of them. 

Speaking to EdexLive, Umesh says, “The last 15 months were a period of extreme stress for everyone who received expulsion notices. Bhimraj and I are certainly happy to receive justice against our unjust expulsion.”

The verdict 
In the 16-page judgement, the single-judge bench comprising Justice C Hari Shankar, who also heard Apoorva’s plea hearing, observed that the facts presented in this case “are largely identical to those which were under consideration” in Apoorva’s case.

Given this, the verdict declared, “The decision in Apoorva YK, therefore, applies on all fours to the present case.”

While quashing Apoorva’s expulsion orders, Justice C Hari Shankar termed the disciplinary action against her “chimerical in character, with the clear intention, already formulated, to send the petitioner out”. 

He also called her expulsion a “sham”, with a “predetermined intent to expel the petitioners from the University environs”.

In this case, the bench observed that Umesh and Bhimraj were not even given a show cause notice before they were expelled – going against the principle of audi alterum partem (listen to the other side), which is “one of the most sanctified principles of natural justice”. 

Further, it added that none of the rules, by-laws, and regulations applicable to the SAU allows for post-decisional hearing; and even if they did, punishing students before giving them a chance to represent themselves against the punishment goes against the principles of natural justice. 

“Taking a decision to expel a student first and, thereafter, inviting the student to represent against the decision and hearing the student is no less than presenting the student with a fait accompli (something that has occurred and cannot be changed),” Justice C Hari Shankar stated, in the judgement. 

The judgement also made mention of the judgement of the case Dr Snehashish Bhattacharya v South Asian University, which quashes a plea by expelled assistant professors of SAU and upholds the university’s immunity against Article 226 of the Constitution. In the judgement of the latter, it was also suggested that this case be referred to a Division Bench of the Court, due to a contradiction between the two benches. 

Disagreeing with this, Justice C Hari Shankar explains that while Dr Snehahish Bhattacharya deals with a service dispute, this case was about the right to education of the petitioners, and how their expulsion violated this right. 

The road ahead
For Umesh, the priority after this victory is the completion of his PhD. 

“After my expulsion, I was made out of bounds from the library, which has limited my access to the resources I needed for my research. I want to submit my PhD and move ahead with my life,” he says. 

He adds that the university withheld his MA and MPhil certificates, which rendered it difficult for him to find a job. 

As for Bhimraj, he plans to de-register from the PhD programme at SAU, as he is now attending Oxford University. 

However, they both acknowledge the pending case of Ammar Ahmed, who has been left paralysed after two strokes, allegedly triggered by his expulsion from SAU. According to Umesh, the hearing for Umesh’s case is scheduled for March 20. 

In addition, the issues regarding the MA scholarships, lack of student representation in grievance committees, and the expulsion of assistant professors have allegedly not been resolved. 

Bhimraj hopes that the new leadership of SAU resolves these issues, claiming that the previous administration “strained the relations between the university and its stakeholders” and “tarnished its reputation.”

“I would also like to mention that without Advocate Abhik Chimni, our legal counsel in this case, this victory would not be possible,” Bhimraj adds. 

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