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Vanished inquiry report mystery: 8 months on, RGNUL students RTIs still stonewalled • Univ, HC claim they don’t have

The judicial inquiry report appears to be stuck in a limbo state where RGNUL doesn't have it, and the HC can't give it since the RGNUL chancellor (aka CJ) should

RGNUL Patiala students have been trying in vain for more than eight months to obtain the report in the hard-won inquiry against university staffer SP Singh, with the Punjab and Haryana high court’s Right to Information (RTI) first appellate authority having on 18 February 2020 rejected that it needed to provide the document.

The high court in its RTI response to Arjun Aggarwal - a former student bar president of NUJS Kolkata before joining private practice - first denied having the inquiry report ordered by RGNUL’s chancellor (who is also the high court’s chief justice); then, on appeal, it said that such inquiry report did not fall within the high court’s RTI obligations since it was ordered in the chief justice’s capacity as chancellor.

The university should therefore be approached for the document, said the high court.

However, RGNUL has said repeatedly in an RTI response and appeal that it does not have a copy; vice chancellor (VC) Paramjit Jaswal confirmed this to us by phone last week, reiterating that the university did not have a copy of the report.

The students had instructed Arjun Sheoran from Chandigarh-based law firm Vaakya Legal to represent their interests in the inquiry and follow-up.

Sheoran told us in a statement:

The enquiry initiated into RGNUL’s former Administrative Officer Capt. S.P. Singh (Retd.)’s actions has only made us ask more questions. As counsels for the students, Vaakya Legal has been a part of this enquiry since the very beginning and I find it very strange that the students have still not been given a copy of the report prepared at the end of this enquiry which was on the basis of complaints of many students of RGNUL and supported by testimonies of witnesses.

It is a settled principle of law that every enquiry needs to have a report of the findings, and the same should be served to the complainant party. However, neither RGNUL, nor the District Court, Patiala, nor the administrative authorities at the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab & Haryana seem to possess a copy of the final enquiry report. This reeks of a mala fide intent on the part of the system and there seems to be an effort to cover up the possible adverse findings against RGNUL’s administration and officers.

The strange tale of a disappeared report

Capt (retd) SP Singh had been sent on compulsory leave from RGNUL as administrative officer following student protests, including against his alleged behaviour.

The students in their March 2019 protests had successfully pushed for a formal inquiry into the allegations, which had been granted.

In April 2019, students then participated in the judicial inquiry chaired by Patiala-based additional district and sessions judge Manjot Kaur, appointed by the RGNUL chancellor and Punjab & Haryana high court chief justice, giving witness statements and their accounts to Kaur.

Kaur later submitted her report to the chancellor (who is the also high court’s chief justice), according to an RTI repsonse from the district court.

Since then, RGNUL students had been keen to get written confirmation of their grievances in the inquiry but the report was apparently never delivered to students or the university (though they did manage to get the National Commission for Women (NCW) to record some of their grievances in writing, in May 2019).

But the reasoning for why the Kaur inquiry report was never published or formally submitted, is not entirely clear.

Singh had been sent on compulsory leave before the start of the inquiry, and had apparently permanently resigned from his position a little while later.

But... RGNUL has no copy

The present unsuccessful RTI to the high court had not been the first.

RGNUL Patiala, via its public information officer (PIO) on 8 August 2019, had initially replied to an RTI reply from students seeking the inquiry order made by Kaur. Instead, RGNUL had provided a copy of the order that had ordered Kaur to commence her inquiry.

Appeal against RGNUL order
Appeal against RGNUL order

A first appeal by students against that response (see above), on 10 September 2019, was rejected by RGNUL with the reasoning that the PIO did not in fact have a copy of the order.

RTI appeal reply by RGNUL
RTI appeal reply by RGNUL

And high court... is not sure

In the newer RTIs, in which students requested this information from the high court, its PIO noted that this “information is not available in the records”.

Meanwhile, in the RTI appeal, the high court noted that any records potentially held by RGNUL’s chancellor, who is also the Chief Justice of the high court, were not available to the PIO of the high court.

In particular, noted the order, any documents held by the chief justice in his capacity as chancellor of RGNUL would not be accessible via RTI to the high court.

The order cited judicial authority for both those contentions (see full order below).

One RGNUL student, on condition of anonymity, said that the “actions of SP Singh continue to remain an open wound for the students of RGNUL”.

“While we did eventually find out about SP Singh’s resignation through the news, since the enquiry was conducted and a report was prepared, we expected that a copy of the same would naturally be given to our counsels,” added the student, noting:

It has been more than eight months since the conclusion of the enquiry and the triad of authorities involved; (i) RGNUL; (ii) District Court, Patiala (Smt. Manjot Kaur); and (iii) Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court have gone on record, denying having a copy of the enquiry report which should have legally been furnished to us being primary parties in the enquiry.

What is more appalling is that RGNUL has told us that it does not possess a copy of the report whereas the District Court asked us to approach the High Court for a copy of the report. However, the High Court directed us back to RGNUL to seek a copy of the report making a mockery of the entire enquiry.

The student said that students were considering their future legal options in this.

RTI appeal response from HC (PDF)

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