Uttarakhand High Court at Nainital
Uttarakhand High Court at Nainital
Litigation News

Centre's decision to locate NIT Uttarakhand campus at Sumari "arbitrary, outrageous in its defiance of logic", Uttarakhand HC

The decision brings a resolution to the decade-long tussle between the Centre and the Uttarakhand government on the location of the permanent campus of NIT Uttarakhand.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The Uttarakhand High Court has declared the decision of the Central government to shift the permanent campus of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Uttarakhand to Sumari as "arbitrary and irrational" (Jasveer Singh v. State of Uttarakhand & Ors).

The judgment was passed today by a Division Bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan - who incidentally retires today - and Justice Ramesh Chandra Khulbe.

The decision brings a resolution to the decade-long tussle between the Centre and the Uttarakhand state government about the location of the permanent campus of NIT Uttarakhand. The Centre’s decision to locate the institute's campus to Sumari, Uttarakhand has been struck down as unreasonable, arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

The Centre's move, purportedly an attempt to end its impasse with the state government, was found by the High Court to have ignored the safety and lives of students and teachers of NIT - U.

Ever since the institute’s establishment in 2009, the Centre and the state have locked horns on a suitable location for it. Successive state governments have insisted upon Sumari, a hilly region, for the institute, while the Centre had until recently attempted to prod the state into choosing a safer alternative.

During this time, the institute was functioning out of a campus in Srinagar, whose infrastructural and safety capabilities have been reported by the Court to be “pathetic”.

A hit-and-run incident on the National Highway, which was the only route to commute between the two sections of the Srinagar campus, had resulted in the lower-body paralysis of one student.

This incident raised tensions on campus, with the students even resorting to hold a dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

The Court in its judgment notes that no department in the institute has even a single professor employed, and that many of them having left owing to poor infrastructure and conditions of work. The lack of infrastructure has also necessitated the shift of studies to a campus at Jaipur, leading to further inconvenience for the students.

In light of these issues, a PIL filed by a former student of the University, seeking the following reliefs, among others:

1. The shifting of the temporary and permanent campuses of the institute to a more convenient location in Uttarakhand.

2. For the permanent campus to be finalised and constructed in a time-bound manner.

3. For the institute and the Centre to bear the entirety of the injured student’s medical expenses.

Taking note of the state of affairs, the Court said that despite its previous orders, no action was taken to remedy the situation. The judgment reads,

"The blame, for the sorry state of affairs in which NIT, Uttarakhand finds itself in, must largely be placed on bureaucratic apathy and the indifference of the respondents to the plight of the Institution and its students and staff. A slew of interim directions issued, from time to time, by this Court notwithstanding, very little progress has been achieved on any of these fronts."

Uttarakhand High Court

The Court delivered its judgment under three heads: the prevailing conditions in the institute’s Srinagar campus (Srinagar), Sumari as a suitable location for the campus (Sumari), and the injured student's health. In the course of the judgment, the Court also assessed the suitability of judicial review and its powers to issue a writ of mandamus with directions to the public authorities involved.

On Srinagar campus

Highlighting the lack of facilities at the Srinagar campus, the Court noted,

"...the students from all four years of the undergraduate engineering courses were, prior to 2018-19, prosecuting their studies at the Srinagar campus with a toilet-student ratio of 1:50 i.e. 50 students had to do with using one toilet. We are referring to this alone to highlight the complete lack of facilities in an Institution, which Parliament has declared, by the 2007 Act, to be an Institution of national importance. If this be the plight of an Institute of national importance, the future of higher education does not appear bright."
Uttarakhand High Court

Stating that the Centre was obligated to release funds for the development of infrastructure at the campus, the Court found that the institute was unable to maintain standards as a result of the Centre’s failure to render monetary assistance. The judgment states,

“...no action appears to have been taken thereafter by the Government of India for the past one year to provide the required funds, resulting in the NIT not being able to even lay an internal pathway for students to travel, and in their still being forced to take the National Highway to commute from one campus to another. What should we do in such a situation?”

Further holding that Article 226 of the Constitution gave it “wide powers” to “reach injustice wherever it is found”, the Court held that it was empowered to issue a “positive mandamus” so as to give relief in this particular situation.

"Despite our earlier interim orders... the situation remains as it is for the past more than a year. Asking the Government of India to consider the matter, and take a decision thereafter, would only take time...

...Unless a positive mandamus is issued, NIT, Uttarakhand would, during the academic year 2021-22, face the daunting task of having to accommodate undergraduate students of three years which, in the present situation in which NIT, Uttarakhand finds itself in, is almost impossible."

Holding so, the Court directed the Centre to consider a detailed project report designed by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee and to release funds required for infrastructural upgrades at the Srinagar campus.

On site of permanent campus at Sumari

The petitioner had argued that the choice of Sumari as the location for the permanent campus was one that defied reasonableness and rationality, because the safety of students and teachers of the Institute should have been prime.

The documents produced in Court also showed that an end to the impasse between the state and the Centre in deciding a location was a key consideration in choosing Sumari. This location was chosen despite IIT-Roorkee report, and a Geographical Survey (GSI) Report demonstrating that the area was prone to landslides and soil instability.

The state government, on the other hand, argued that its policy decision could not be interfered into by the Court. Other grounds urged included that the move may well result in improvement in the living standards of the villagers of Sumari, and would give impetus to economic and developmental growth.

Speaking on the importance of facilities at a university, as opposed to its location, the Court noted,

"The object of establishing an Institution is not served merely by its location within the State, but on the required facilities, in terms of faculty and infrastructure, being provided to enable the bright young minds, who join the Institution, to be imparted education and training of the high standards expected of these Institutions of excellence, so that they may, on passing out therefrom, compete with the best and the brightest from different parts of the country."

On the Centre's decision to locate the campus at Sumari, the Court ultimately held,

"The decision of the Government of India, conveying its consent to locate the NIT, Uttarakhand permanent campus at Sumari with a view “to end the impasse”, suffers from the vice of irrationality, unreasonableness and arbitrariness, and falls foul of Article 14 of the Constitution of India."

On the injured student

The Court, allowing the prayer of the petitioner, directed that all of the injured student’s medical expenses be covered by the Centre and NIT throughout her life, along with an additional compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the amount she had already received from the institute as compensation.

The student shall also be reimbursed for her medical treatment, within one month of her making a claim for such payment, the Court ordered.

On these terms, the Court disposed of the petition.

Advocate Abhijay Negi appeared for the petitioner. Advocate General SN Babulkar and Standing Counsel Pradeep Joshi represented the state government. The Centre was represented by Standing Counsel VK Kapruwan, while NIT was represented by Advocate Ajay Singh Bisht.

Read the Judgment here:

Jasveer Singh v. State of Uttarakhand and Ors. - Judgment dated July 27, 2020.pdf
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