Brief Background of the Case
Dr. Janet Jeyapaul, a professor in the Department of Biotechnology at SRM University (Deemed University under Section 3 of UGC Act, 1956) was served with a notice calling upon him to explain the reason behind failure to take the classes of students of various courses. Dissatisfied with the explanation of Dr. Jeyapaul, University issued him a notice of termination from the service the next month.
By way of the writ petition under Article 226 of the constitution of India, Dr. Jeyapaul challenged the said notice and the learned single judge allowed the writ petition after considering it on merits and directed the University to reinstate him. Against this order of the learned single judge, an appeal was preferred which was disposed of by the SRM where the division bench allowed the appeal at the threshold stating, the high court under writ jurisdiction cannot examine the legality of the termination notice as SRM is not state under Article 12 of the Constitution.
Whether SRM University falls under the ambit of ‘state’ as defined in Article 12, Part III of the constitution?
When can a high court invoke its writ jurisdiction under Art. 226 of the Constitution of India?
In this part, unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of India.
Power of High Courts to issue certain writs. Notwithstanding anything in Article 32, every High Court shall have powers, throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction, to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government, within those territories directions, orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibitions, quo warranto and certiorari, or any of them, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III and for any other purpose
The public function test and the control test evolved from the Supreme Court judgements help to determine whether an institution is a State or not. Also, the application of Article 226 is not restricted to statutory bodies and instrumentalities of the State, but the Supreme court has to decide whether the issue raised by the division bench of the High Court of SRM University is a state or not.
The rule is when there is an alternative remedy available high court generally demands to approach that authority but Justice KM Joseph and Justice Roy while sitting at the supreme court observed that the mere availability of an alternative remedy would not exhaust the power of the high court to issue writs. It is solely the discretion of the high court to the best of possible to meet the end of justice.
Now that the learned single judge has considered on merits exercising its discretion, dismissing the appeal at the threshold does not serve the interests of justice as there is no compulsion on the high court to not exercise writ jurisdiction in the appropriate cases.
The first test in the present case was to determine whether the SRM is discharging any “public duty” or “public function”. The function of SRM is imparting education to the students at large can be called a “public function” considering various decisions by the apex court.
Also, English courts have taken the parallel view saying if some duty is imposed on an institution by law or by implication is a public duty, courts have the jurisdiction to entertain an application for judicial review of that institution’s decisions.
In Andi Mukta Sadguru’s case (service matter as in the present case), the employees of a school registered under the Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950 imparting education at large like SRM were granted the benefit of the writ of mandamus under Article 226 of the Constitution. Unlike Article 32 where only fundamental right can be enforced and that too only against the state, the jurisdiction of Article 226 has a wider scope.
In Zee Telefilms v. UOI it was held that BCCI is not a state despite its discharging public functions and duties of selection of players for the Indian Cricket Team. With this court also observed that as BCCI is discharging public duties, the aggrieved party always has the remedy under ordinary law (for example, the approaching tribunal in the present case) but also under Article 226 of the Constitution.
Therefore, the present case is covered by ratio decidendi of BCCI case as imparting education at large is also a public function and writ can always lie against SRM even though it was held ‘not a state’.
The second test is the control test. How much control can government impose in case of any breach or irregularity committed by the institution? In the present case, SRM is granted the status of “Deemed University” by the Central Government under Section 3 of the UGC Act and therefore, all functions and activities are governed by the UGC Act, unlike purely private colleges. Thus, SRM, a deemed university is also an authority within the definition of Article 12. Also deemed universities enjoy various kinds of aid from the government such as cheap electricity, land for expansion at lower rates, funds etc.
SRM University, being a deemed university, discharging public functions and receiving aid and instructions from the government, is an authority under the Article of the constitution and qualifies public function test as well as the control test. Generally, in service matters, courts do not interfere by way of writs as there is an alternate remedy available to the writ petitioners but in the present case as the single judge has already decided on merits and now directing the appellant to go before the alternate authority would do delay in the delivery of justice.
It is still the discretion of the constitutional courts to exercise writ jurisdiction and if they find a grave danger to the rights of people they can even issue a writ even against a private person as understood from the plain reading of Article 226. Now that the apex courts have held that deemed universities are ‘State’, any individual can even directly approach the apex court under Article 32 if these institutions are posing a threat to the fundamental rights of its stakeholders.
By: Divyam Desai, a student at Jindal Global Law School.
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