SC wrong to cancel degrees

The Supreme Court order cancelling engineering degrees of students granted in distance education mode since 2001 by four Deemed Universities - two in Rajasthan, one in UP and one in Tamil Nadu - may be correct in law but unjust to those who obtained these degrees more than a decade ago. The students can be faulted for only not knowing that the universities were not allowed to offer distance education degrees in engineering. The universities had been granted Deemed to be University status by the UGC. The fault lies with the UGC, AICTE and other bodies that should have ensured that they offered only authorised programmes. Some blame rests with the Supreme Court also. A petition seeking regulation of the functioning of Deemed to be Universities was filed as far back as 2006 and has gone on for years.  

The Union HRD ministry-appointed the Prof P N Tandon Committee, which studied the  functioning of 126 of the 130 Deemed Universities, and had said in October 2009 that only 38 of them met the criteria to enjoy that status. It also said that 44 universities needed to upgrade themselves to be able to retain the status and that 44 others - in Table/List C of the report - must be de-recognised. Three of the four Deemed to be Universities that were awarding engineering degrees by distance mode were in the Tandon Report's Table C. Yet, neither the UGC and other bodies nor the SC took any action on the report. The Tandon Committee suggested that these Deemed Universities must be sent back under the control of the university they were functioning under earlier. It did not recommend cancellation of the degrees they had awarded. The court should have acted on these recommendations then itself. Instead, it asked the NAAC to once again grade the Deemed Universities. Finally, the status of none of these universities was cancelled.  

The SC judgement came five years after the case - Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited Vs. Rabi Sankar Patro - went to the top court. Did the SC need five years to decide this case? Is it justified in cancelling degrees with retrospective effect when the students themselves did not indulge in any malpractice? They were actually defrauded by the institutions and are now being punished. The court will do well to revisit the judgement. The SC's order that no distance education programme should be run in 2018 unless each programme has been individually inspected may also do more harm than good in a country that's already woefully short of universities. The UGC must move swiftly to ensure that Deemed Universities maintain standards, but the controversy over the actions of four such institutions must not harm the reputations of the 119 others.

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