The Gujarat High Court while taking suo motu cognizance of a sexual harassment case in Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) campus said that the Director of GNLU utterly failed in discharge of his duty.

An instant petition in the nature of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was registered on the suo motu cognizance taken vide an order on a daily newspaper report published of an incident relating to two students of GNLU.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha P. Mayee observed, “… we may record that the Director of the University is silent about the response of the University before this Court. It is difficult to comprehend that the Director was not aware of the stand taken in the affidavit of the in-charge Registrar. It was the duty of the Director to take things in his hands once cognizance was taken. We have, therefore, serious doubt about the role of the Director in submitting response of the University before this Court. However, since the Governing Council of the University has reposed confidence in the Director in order to give one chance to him to make improvements, we do propose to say anything except that the Director of the University has utterly failed in discharge of his duty of submitting a proper response to this Court on behalf of the University. We, however, accept the unconditional apology of the In-charge Registrar.”

Advocate Krina P Calla represented the applicant while AGP Utkarsh Sharma, Senior Advocate Kamal Trivedi, and Advocate Dharmishta Raval represented the opponents.

In this case, a High Level Committee was constituted comprising of a Former Judge, Supreme Court of India, Attorney General of India (a member of the Governing Council) and a former Additional Chief Secretary, Finance Department, Government of Gujarat for assessment of past five years' performance of the University in the field of academics, administration, finance as well as safety/security aspects of the students for suggesting further corrective measures to be undertaken in that regard.

A Sub-committee of two senior advocates of the High Court (members of the Governing Council) was also constituted to ensure that immediate corrective measures for reconstitution of a transparent and vigilant Internal Committee was put in place, which takes care of any allegations like sexual harassment to any of the students, whether against faculty or students and provide for display of such measures be placed at various places in the University. It was resolved that the report of both the High Level Committee and Sub-committee shall be placed before the Executive Council, which shall place the same along with its recommendation before the Governing Council for consideration.

The High Court in the above context of the case said, “We hope and trust that the instructions issued by the Governing Council, the apex body of the University, shall be followed in their true letter and spirit by the Director, Faculty Members and the Members of the respective Administrative Committees of the University on the assurance given by them. We, therefore, find it proper to set the matter on rest.”

The Court further noted that an assurance has been given that the Director will fully cooperate with the High Level Review Committee constituted by the General Council under the Chairmanship of Justice Indira Bannerjee (Former Judge, Supreme Court of India) and implement the suggestions and directions of the said Committee in its true letter and spirit.

“He has also assured that he will make best efforts to win the confidence of the students and to see that a very congenial and ameliorate atmosphere is maintained in the campus of the respondent University. … On the said assurance, we can only say that the Director of the University has to prove himself so as to meet the expectations of the Governing Council, the students as also the concern of this Court that the students studying law are to be given such an atmosphere where they can speak their concern without any inhibition while maintaining the discipline of the University”, it added.

The Court said that gender sensitization programmes are required to be held to sensitize the students and the faculty members with respect to all genders including third gender and to maintain a harmonious atmosphere in the University so that every student may grow to be a responsible member of the legal fraternity, who are supposed to voice the concern of the marginalised section of the Society before the law making, law implementing and interpreting authorities.

“We hope and trust that the Director and the Faculty Members will try to come out of their own biases and prejudices which they carry about any social issue by sensitizing themselves as well during such programmes, so that they may be able to win the confidence of the students for whom they are parents in a residential University. Not a single incident disturbing the freedom of expression of any student (within the framework of law) or suppression of voice on any social and legal issue shall be tolerated. The suggestions of the Fact Finding Committee to improve the infrastructure of the University by providing safety measures shall be implemented immediately without waiting for the outcome of the report of the inquiry by the High Level Review Committee constituted by the Governing Council”, it also noted.

Accordingly, the High Court disposed of the PIL.

Cause Title- Suo Motu v. Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) & Anr.

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