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The Calcutta High Court has granted interim relief to students who were aggrieved by the abrupt decision of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) to halt all online courses, including those which had already commenced.
Finding prima facie merit in the grievances presented by the student petitioners, Justice Protik Prakash Banerjee passed an interim order in their favour. In the order passed last week, he observes,
“Prima facie, I find that such course of action which affects the vital right of students without prior notice to them and without even offering to refund the fees that they have paid is arbitrary and does not become a premier institution such as the National University of Juridical Sciences.“
As a result, the Court has ordered that all notifications concerning the halting of online certificate courses be treated as prospective, which would allow the students already enrolled to complete their course and receive due certification. As stated in the order dated November 1,
“.. the On-line courses for which the petitioners have enrolled prior to June 27, 2018 were something which the writ petitioners were entitled to complete and prima facie they are entitled to certificates if they completed successfully. Accordingly, Annexure P-2 must be treated to be prospective and, therefore, the operation of Annexure P-3 shall remain stayed so far as those petitioners who have enrolled themselves and paid the fees prior to June 27, 2018 are concerned.
…The operation of the order of stay shall continue for a period of two months after reopening after the long vacation or until further order whichever is earlier. The writ petitioner shall be entitled to apply for extension of the interim order on the self-same application. The respondents shall be at liberty to seek for vacating of interim order on showing cause.“
The judge has also queried as to how a private partner could have been involved in offering distance education courses for NUJS in the first place, in the absence of any official tie-up.
“I do not know how the respondent no.2 could have been involved in the matter with the respondent no.1 since the latter is not a university and cannot on its face offer any On-line certification without having a tie-up with any university which has been granted permission by the University Grants Commission to offer Distance Education. Why the respondent no.1 decided to tie-up with such a private party is also not disclosed. However, I am sure all of this will come to light as and when the respondents are heard.“
Controversy arose after the University issued a circular last May, intimating the decision of the Academic Council of NUJS to stop all distance learning initiatives and online certificate courses which involved external private partners. The circular had stated,
“It was decided that all future activities pertaining to Distance Education and Online courses should be put on status quo, except those which are purely University initiatives.
All enrollments for these Online and Distance Education courses which used to be run by the University through private partnerships have been suspended till further order. Any person enrolling for these courses would be doing it at their own risk and the University shall not be held responsible for such matters.”
While it was initially presumed that this circular would only have prospective effect, another notice was issued in October, indicating otherwise. It stated,
“It is issued for general information that all online courses run by WBNUJS in association with private parties have been stopped forthwith by the Executive Council in its 62nd meeting dated 29.9.2018. Henceforth all communications relating to all online courses and allied issues connected thereto shall be made to Prof. (Dr.) Anirban Mazumder, Director, School of Distance & Mass Educaiton (SDME) WBNUJS.“
As a result, students who had already paid up for such courses were left in the lurch. Apart from the time lost in pursuing these courses, no provision was made to refund fees already paid by the enrolled students. Three students therefore moved the Calcutta High Court, seeking its intervention.
The matter is due to be taken up next a week after the long vacation.
Read the order: