The new dawn needs to redeem deemed

The new dawn needs to redeem deemed

Private deemed universities continuously dominate the NIRF university rankings every year with almost 33 per cent in the top 100 of the recent NIRF 2023, marching ahead of many central and state universities.

During a casual conversation with a foreign university partner in North America, the Dean of its engineering school quizzed: “When will deemed universities become universities?” I was uncomfortably explaining the policy trajectory of deemed universities which is still undergoing a bumpy ride ever since its conceptual inception. After my explanation, he felt he was better off not asking the question. Here is why.

The First Education Commission report of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1948-49) recommended that the government should evolve a method of creating university charters similar to many countries, where universities are set up not through acts of legislature but through charters granted by the head of the state.

“This course may also be adopted in our country, at any rate, with regard to the new universities, which are established by the conversion of existing institutions.” Thus was born the concept of deemed university under section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956. The deemed university avatar had reincarnations midwifed by various policies all of them failing to put to rest the deeming fiction which should have been phased out by now as envisaged by the Radhakrishnan Commission report. The Sankalp Patra of PM Modi which is a political gnani’s social GYAN (Garib, Yuva, Annadata and Nari) is a good start for early relief to the deemed universities conundrum which has enough legal ammunition to trigger the policy solution.

A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court in Azeez Basha vs Union of India (1968) in an issue concerning Aligarh Muslim University defined the word “established” in so far as universities are concerned along with the need to establish university under a central/state law.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Premchand Jain vs RK Chabra (1984) rightly left it to the central government to interpret or amend, if necessary Section 23 of the UGC Act that can allow deemed universities to use the word ‘university’. Armed with this SC order, the union government in its best wisdom constituted a committee and permitted deemed universities to use the word ‘university’ in the year 2006.

Unfortunately, a two-judge bench of the SC in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corp. Ltd. vs Sri Rabi Sankar Patro (2017), while considering a completely different issue concerning four deemed universities, ordered that all 120 deemed universities to not use the word ‘university’ resulting to this present terminological confusion.

The interpreter of law allows the interpreter to inquire not into the subjective intent of the author, but rather the intent the author would have had, had he or she acted reasonably. This spirit of purposive construction highlighted by Aharon Barak in Purposive Interpretation in Law, (2007) was appreciated by the Supreme Court in New India Assurance Co. Ltd. vs Nusli Neville Wadia, (2008).

The principles of Casus Omissus was appreciated by SC in UCO Bank vs Rajinder Lal Capoor (2008), which as per GP Singh’s Interpretation of Statutes, is an application of the general principle that a matter which should have been, but has not been provided for in a statute cannot be supplied by courts, as doing so will be legislation and not construction.

Reading the above two along with the SC’s 1968 interpretation of the word established along with Section 22 and 23 of the UGC Act, it is by harmonious construct that an institution which once was not empowered to award degrees is empowered to do so by the central government under a central Act (UGC Act, in the case of deemed universities), its degrees are recognised for all practical purposes and should be treated as a regular university only. It is in this operational spirit that many progressive deemed universities built an ecosystem garnering academic repute and excellence. Private deemed universities continuously dominate the NIRF university rankings every year with almost 33 per cent in the top 100 of the recent NIRF 2023, marching ahead of many central and state universities.

This being the case, the comity of deemed universities eagerly awaits redistribution and inheritance of a different type. The much-needed autonomy that still seems to be the exclusive privilege of the central and state universities needs to be redistributed bountifully to all deemed universities who are capable of inheriting best practices of not only better-ranked central/state university peers, but also reputed foreign universities. The autonomy provided to private un-aided institution by the Supreme Court in TMA Pai Foundation Case still holds the ground and the new dawn’s Sankalp Patra hopefully shall redeem the deemed.

S Vaidhyasubramaniam

Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University

The New Indian Express