Taking suo motu cognisance of a media report, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has issued notice to the University Grants Commission (UGC), asking it about the steps it has initiated to implement regulations pertaining to establishment and operation of private universities in the state.
From the news item that has appeared in The Tribune, it transpires that the UGC is abdicating its authority bordering on non-performance and disregarding the violations committed by the private universities, a division bench of Chief Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Kuldip Singh observed last week.
The court observed that "this is polluting the environment of quality education to be imparted by the universities". The high court on 19 Oct set aside the State Private Educational Institutions (Regulatory) Act of 2010 that empowered a government regulatory commission to monitor universities.
The court also directed the state through the chief secretary and the principal secretary (education) to file its reply on the issue. It also sent a notice to registrars of all private universities to file their response pertaining to irregularities mentioned in the news item.
The UGC, the state and the universities have been told to file their respective replies by 13 Nov. It was mentioned in the news item that the UGC seemed to be unconcerned about enforcing its regulations pertaining to the establishment and operation of private universities and till date it had conducted inspections of only five universities.
After the judgment, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has made it clear that a regulatory body was required to maintain quality of education. "We are considering to file an appeal against the high court judgment. We are taking legal opinion. A final decision in this regard will be taken only after that," he told reporters here. The judgment to quash the State Private Educational Institutions (Regulatory) Act came on the petition of the Himachal Pradesh Private Universities Management Association, which was seeking setting aside of the act and quashing of notices issued to them.
The bench of Chief Justice Khanwilkar and Justice Kuldip Singh had declared the act unconstitutional on the ground that the state legislature was incompetent to enact such a law on a subject covered by the field occupied by Entry 66 of the Union List. Entry 66 of the Union List stipulates that a teaching university will not come within the purview of the state legislation on account of the specific nature of determination of standards in institutions for higher education being in the Union List for which parliament alone is competent to legislate.
"Accordingly, we may have to declare the Act of 2010 ultra vires and void ab initio," they ruled. Official sources told IANS that the regulatory commission had played a crucial role in pointing out irregularities by the universities. These were: enrolling students even before the institution came into existence; admitting students even without fulfilling minimum qualification; filling more than approved number of seats and registering research scholars to Ph.D courses without UGC approval.