Issue Pending Degree Certificates to 1,763 Mithibai College Students: Bombay HC to Mumbai University
3rd July 2021 the Bombay High Court in SVKM’s Mithibai College of Arts and Anr. vs University of Mumbai and 2 Ors. — WP no. 10839 of 2021 — directed the respondent, Mumbai University to issue degree certificates to the students of Mithibai College. Mumbai University had earlier withheld the degree certificates of 128 students of ATKT Batch of 2018-19, 1380 students of Regular Batch of 2019-20 and 255 students of Postgraduate Regular Batch on the ground that the petitioner College, on being granted autonomy applied its new grading system with respect to courses which had already commenced before the grant of autonomy.
Division Bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice Nitin Jamdar and Justice C.V. Bhadang remarked:
“…to invoke the principle based on the analogy that rules of the game cannot be changed mid-way is based on prejudice. We find that this ground raised by the Respondents to withhold the degree certificates is not justified.”
In 2018, the UGC conferred autonomous status upon the petitioner, Mithibai College, under the University Grants Commission (Conferment of Autonomous Status Upon Colleges and Measures for Maintenance of Standards in Autonomous Colleges) Regulations, 2018. The petitioner, an autonomous college, is entitled to evolve assessment methods of student’s performance, the conduct of examinations, and notifications of results. The petitioner college then proceeded to change the gradation system for all courses from the academic year 2019-20. i.e., higher marks were required to obtain a specific grade compared to the earlier system. The college declared the results and issued a statement of marks; however, the degree was pending to be awarded by the University.
The respondent University communicated to the petitioner college to not apply the revised gradation system for the courses mid-way i.e., for courses that had commenced before the autonomy was granted and should be implemented in respect of courses commenced after the grant of autonomy and from the first year. As the communication was not adhered to by the college, respondent University refused to issue degree certificates to 128 students of ATKT Batch of 2018-19, 1380 students of Regular Batch of 2019-20, and 255 students of Postgraduate Regular Batch. Aggrieved, the petitioner college filed a writ petition before the Bombay High Court seeking a direction to the respondent University to issue the degree certificates.
The respondent contended their actions were based on three grounds:
- Firstly, the issue was examined by a committee instituted by the Board of Examination to examine the issue. The Committee submitted its report and directed that corrections shall be made in the marksheets issued by the college, and this report was accepted by the University. Under Section 47 of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016, the respondent claimed that such a report was binding on the college. The petitioner contended that Autonomy to it was granted under UGC Regulations of 2018 and hence the above statute did not apply to it. The court agreed that indeed the above statute was not applicable to petitioners.
- Secondly, the respondent in its communication had referred to the rule, which prohibits such a change in the grading system mid-way of course, as a strong precedent. The court held that respondents must provide for specific embargoes under relevant statutory provisions. Also, when a precedent has become a binding rule should be demonstrated with particulars. As the respondent failed to provide the specifics, the second ground was dismissed.
- Thirdly, the ground was raised under Section 26(3) of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956. The Section grants power to give a retrospective effect but bars the same if such effect causes prejudice to whom such regulations are applied. Respondent contended that changing grading of the students’ mid-course was in retrospective effect causing prejudice to the students.
Observing that Regulation 3.3 of the Regulations, 2018 which allows autonomous colleges to evolve methods of assessment including allotment of grades and that as per Regulation 3.12, all students enrolled at the time the autonomy is granted, would be covered under the autonomy Else it would lead to two categories of students who are similarly situated. This ground was also dismissed where court stated:
“A conjoint reading of Regulations 3.3 and 3.12 of the Regulations of 2018 shows that irrespective of the fact as to when the students have been admitted and cleared the internal examination, they form one class and could be subjected to the revised grading system by the Petitioner.”
Replying to the respondent’s argument that the grading system introduced is per se prejudicial, the petitioner submitted that the statement of marks provides aggregate marks and the percentage along with the grades. On that basis, students of petitioner college had taken admission to higher studies and obtained employment without any issues. The petitioner averred that the demand by the respondent to recall the statement of marks is impractical. The court held:
“The suggestion of the Committee approved by the Board to recall the statement of marks already issued, as pointed by the Petitioner, is impractical at this stage. The action of the University in not issuing the degree certificate to the students at this stage is, in fact, prejudicial to these students.”
In conclusion, the Bombay High Court allowed the petition and directed the respondent University to issue degree certificates within four weeks from the date of the order.
Swapna Iyer | Legal Editor | EduLegaL