BBC Documentary Row: DU defends action on debarment of students

BBC Documentary Row: DU defends action on debarment of students

Lokesh Chugh, a Ph.D. student at Delhi University (DU), was identified as the "mastermind of the agitation" that took place in the Faculty of Arts on January 27 while screening the BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question." Delhi University provided this information to the Delhi High Court during Chugh's appeal against his one-year suspension from the university for his alleged involvement in disrupting law and order during the screening, which the court heard on Monday.

Justice Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav observed that Delhi University's response to the Ph.D. student's application was not on record and scheduled a hearing for the case on April 26.

During the previous hearing, the high court had instructed the university to provide its response within three working days and emphasized that the debarment decision "must reflect reasoning".

“It is important to note that the petitioner and other people gathered on the university campus in defiance of the police authorities' enforcement of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This action alone constitutes egregious disobedience on the part of the Petitioner and other individuals against whom disciplinary actions were brought. It is important to note that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was implemented on the university campus by the police from December 31, 2022, to February 28, 2023, and the petitioner can be seen on the videotape actively participating in the unlawful assembly with other people who had gathered,” the response asserts.

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According to DU, the event was reported to the appropriate authority, who then convened a committee with the proctor and other senior academicians to investigate and begin disciplinary actions against the wrongdoers. The reply claims that the committee determined Chugh to be the "mastermind of the agitation" after seeing the recordings.

Chug given show-cause notice

It further states that Chugh, the national secretary of the National Students' Union of India (NSUI), received a show-cause notice and a personal hearing from the Disciplinary Committee prior to receiving the punishment.

The committee's recommendations were presented to the Vice-Chancellor, who is the competent authority, who took into account all of the relevant facts and circumstances and ordered the release of the memo on March 10. The argument put forth by DU is that because Chugh was given the chance to present his case and the right to a hearing, there was no "illegality or any infirmity" in the decision-making process.

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Chugh claimed that he was engaged in a live TV debate when the incident occurred, but DU claims that there is no support of "documentary proof whatsoever" to back up this claim. Additionally, it is mentioned in the response that Chugh was not the only student who received punishment; other students also faced punishment.

No involvement or participation

In his argument, Chugh claims that on January 27, a demonstration was held at the Faculty of Arts (Main Campus) of the University of Delhi, where the "allegedly banned BBC Documentary 'India: The Modi Question'" was shown to the general audience. According to the plea, he was neither present at the protest site during that time, nor had he taken part in the screening in any way. Chugh is pursuing his Ph.D. research at the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Science.

In its response, DU adds that Chugh is "indulging in campus politics and playing a key role in inciting other students and engaging in petty politics that are detrimental to the University discipline, thus causing disruption in the academic functioning of the University system rather than focusing on his research."

According to the March 10 memorandum, the disciplinary committee had actually recommended "expulsion" for Chugh, but the vice chancellor adopted a "sympathetic approach" and only punished Chugh with a one-year ban from sitting for any departmental, college, or university exams.

"Under Ordinance XV-B of the University of Delhi Act, 1922, the Vice-Chancellor of the Respondent No. 1—University of Delhi—has complete authority over discipline and disciplinary action. According to Clause 2 of Ordinance XV-B, the Vice-Chancellor may assign the Proctor and any other individuals that he or she may name in this regard with all or some of the authorities that he or she deems appropriate. Without limiting the generality of the power to enforce discipline under the Ordinance, Clause 3 of Ordinance XV-B lists the various acts of gross indiscipline, including (i) causing disruption in any way of the academic functioning of the University system," according to the response.

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In addition, DU claims that Chugh was "actively involved in the attempt for the screening of the BBC Documentary, in the university campus, with the intention to disrupt the academic functioning of the University system" in the video footage that it has at its disposal. They have said that Chugh's behavior amounts to "gross indiscipline in general" by doing such a thing.

The committee noted that some 20 students had assembled at 4:00 PM to present the BBC Documentary, and another 50 or so students had arrived to watch it. In light of the entire situation, the Committee suggested that students be sent a memo right away explaining why disciplinary action shouldn't be done against them and giving them three (3) days to respond. The Committee also resolved that after hearing from the students in person at the Proctor's Office, the appropriate course of action will be chosen in accordance with university rules. The Committee also agreed to inform the parents of these kids in a letter about the activities of their wards, according to the response.

Delhi University reprimanded by High Court in the first hearing

The first hearing for the case of Lokesh Chugh Vs University of Delhi & Ors. took place on 13th April 2023.

NSUI national secretary Lokesh Chugh was suspended for a year by the administration for allegedly screening a BBC documentary at Delhi University.

After this Chugh moved the Delhi High Court against this decision, from where Delhi University has been severely reprimanded and has also been ordered to respond to the next hearing.

In this case, Chugh was represented by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Naman Joshi, which the High Court judge told Delhi University, if this is your case, the judge strictly asked the university's lawyer to take instructions and said that "It is very wrong if some investigation is done behind his back".

The judge said that "principles of natural justice" have not been followed. The petition has not been heard. The petitioner hasn't been given a chance.

On this matter, Naman Joshi says that the court has observed that the order banning Lokesh has been issued without following the principles of natural justice as he was not given a hearing by the constituted committee about which he is also not aware.

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