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After RMLNLU death, Allahabad HC condemns admin for never-ending trial of late student

RMLNLU: Not all green grass blue skies
RMLNLU: Not all green grass blue skies
Exclusive: The High Court of Allahabad chastised RMLNLU Lucknow’s administration for its ill-handling of disciplinary proceedings against its student - late Sahil Zaidi, who suffered an unnatural death in his final year, during the pendency of the proceedings two years after they were initiated against him.

Deciding a writ petition by the mother of the deceased student, the bench wrote: “Under such negative academic atmosphere as it appears to be pervading the university campus, it may not be possible for the students to utilise their academic potentials at the maximum and pursue their study with full devotion.”

“The vice chancellor of this national law university who generally gives long and ideal speeches […] forgot to imbibe all his speeches, teaching and preachings into action while handling a small episode of this kind which could have been solved by his simple intervention,” the court added.

Zaidi was suspended from the university in October 2009, after allegedly being falsely implicated in an altercation between two groups of students in the RMLNLU campus on 11 and 12 October. A charge sheet was drawn against him by the RMLNLU administration that month, and an inquiry was initiated.

During the course of the university administration’s inquiry, several witnesses to the altercation testified that Zaidi was not an aggressor but had merely helped his friends involved in the brawl in defence against brutal attacks from the aggressors.

The inquiry committee, therefore in March 2010, recommended the punishment of “warning” for Zaidi, after only one of the three charges against him stood ground.

By July 2010, the inquiry proceedings were concluded, but the case against Zaidi was kept alive by RMLNLU vice chancellor Balraj Chauhan who wrote to Zaidi’s father, then a sitting high court judge, denying Zaidi’s admission to the university until further communication.

Zaidi was later allowed to attend classes at the university only after submitting a confessional undertaking admitting guilt on the charge which was not proven against him in the disciplinary inquiry.

A representation by Zaidi to RMLNLU’s executive committee (EC), pleading not guilty, was not responded to by the EC until his death, while his request for migration to a different university was denied on vague grounds.

He died on 29 November last year under suspicious circumstances, pending the inquiry from 2009. Whether his death was a suicide or murder, is still the subject of criminal investigation.

His mother filed a writ petition in the Allahabad HC praying for quashing of the charge sheet against him, and for a compensation of Rs 10 lakh.

While the court said that the question of compensation was premature given that the criminal investigation into Zaidi’s death was still pending, the bench categorically exonerated Zaidi from all charges against him. It also rebuked Chauhan and the university administration for a "lop-sided" dealing of the episode as well as for being “subservient to a pre-conceived notion” against Zaidi.

Among other things, the court observed:

It [...] appears that instead of encouraging an amicable settlement in order to restore peaceful academic atmosphere in the University Campus, the University authorities committed a serious mistake by taking recourse to disciplinary proceedings, said to have been conducted in a manner and the nature of a criminal trial which aggravated the situation further and more than bringing in, any solution to the problem.

It was obligatory upon the University authorities to inform this fact [of disposal of proceedings against Zaidi] well in time before the deceased was driven to meet a fatal end.

The least one can expect of all public functionaries as also the litigant public is not to humiliate a Judge after he lay his office just in order to satisfy one’s ego and settle the scores. The tenor and tone of the language used in correspondence addressed from his [Chauhan’s] office to petitioner’s husband do not support his averments.

Chauhan said: “Throughout my life I have worked for the students, and it has pained me a lot because of such observations of the court.”

“The number here is such – 160 students are there. Problems are everywhere, but I believe every teacher is a second parent and every parent is a second teacher,” he added.

Download the text of the judgement here

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