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An in-house hearing mechanism

Student and staff friendly grievance redress mechanism for effective implementation of New Education Policy in universities
12:00 AM Apr 01, 2024 IST | Guest Contributor
an in house hearing mechanism
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There is an old Kashmiri saying ‘Kenh Mut Detum, Kan Tal Nitam’ meaning ‘do not give me anything but give me a hearing’. Giving opportunity of an effective hearing is equivalent to affording tons of justice to an unheard person. For want of effective hearing an unheard person often feels dejected and at times wants to pull things down. The principle of giving a hearing as part of natural justice principle is a cardinal legal principle.

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Equally important is the availability of legal norms in an institution which govern its staff. Given the complexity of legal languages adopted in framing laws, it is desirable that an institution provides access to its governing laws and procedures in an understandable manner. Free access and availability of information relating to laws, guidelines and procedures governing an institution is imperative for making sound and reasoned decisions.

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Conflicts between an employer and employee often arise because of ignorance about governing norms or misinterpretation or over-interpretation of the laws applicable to a situation. Often the tools of interpretation which are known more to lawyers than to employees are ignored while applying abstract provisions of law applicable to a situation. The result is a conflicting situation which breeds hostility between an employer and employee. This effects the working environment in an institution adversely.

The University Grants Commission Redressal of Grievance of Students Regulations, 2023 envisage implementation of this sacred natural justice principle of affording an effective in-house hearing mechanism to the student community in higher educational institutions. The regulations have already been notified by the UGC and are mandatory for all universities whether established under Central Act or a State Act as well as institutions recognised by the UGC as deemed universities.

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The objective of the regulation is to provide opportunities for redressal of grievances of students already enrolled in any institution as well as those seeking admission to such institutions. To achieve its objective, the regulations envisage an in-house mechanism which is further subject to an independent decision-making process in cases where students aggrieved intend to get in-house decisions reviewed in a speedy and efficacious manner.

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The academic career of students often gets damaged in situations where they choose to go to courts to agitate their grievances where decision making is quite often delayed because of applicable procedural norms and other associated reasons.

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The UGC mechanism provides a forum  known as Students Grievance Redressal Committee (SGRC) comprising Senior University  Professors where decision making has to be completed within a maximum of 15 days from the date the student makes a complaint about his/ her grievance to the Committee. A complaint with supporting documents can be submitted even online once a university facilitates  such online complaint submission mechanism on its website.

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An appeal can be preferred against the decision of the Students' Grievance Committee within a period of 15 working days to the Ombudsperson person-a one person authority who in turn is to resolve the grievances of the student concerned within a period of 30 days of receiving the appeal from the aggrieved student. A former Vice-Chancellor or  a retired Professor with ten year experience as Professor, who has remained Dean/Head in the University can be nominated by the University as Ombudsman.

The regulations envisage that every institution shall within a period of three months from the date of issue of regulations have an online portal where any aggrieved student can submit an application seeking redressal of his/her grievances.

On receipt of an online complaint, the institution has to refer the complaint to the appropriate Students' Grievance Redressal Committee along with its comments within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of the complaint on the online portal.

After receipt of the complaint, the student's grievance redressal committee is to fix a date for hearing the complaint, communicated both to the complainant and to the institution. An aggrieved complainant may appear before the committee either in person or through  a representative.  Grievances not resolved by the grievance redressal committee may be referred by the university to the Ombudsperson.

The Ombudsperson is bound to give reasonable opportunities of being heard to the parties concerned  and on the conclusion of proceedings pass such order with  reasons therefor, as may be deemed fit to resolve the grievance and provide such relief as may be appropriate. The institution as well as the student concerned is to be facilitated copies of the order under the signature of the Ombudsperson.

The institution is bound to comply with the order of the Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson may recommend appropriate action against the complainant where a complaint is found to be false or frivolous. The institutions are bound to extend cooperation to the Ombudsman and the students' grievance redressal committee in early redressal  of grievances. The principles of natural justice are to be applied by the grievance redressal mechanism in resolving the complaints and grievances.

The regulations mandate each institutions to publish and to upload on its website at least 60 days prior to commencement of admission to any course or program of study a prospectus which shall provide all relevant information to the admission seekers and the general public.

This prospectus shall lucidly convey the information regarding  programs and courses of study, the eligibility, the intake capacity, seats for each course, age limit, the process of selection/reservation, fee prescribed for all components including admission test, tuition fees, refund norms, where the admission seekers choose to withdraw from an institution,  details of teaching faculty with their qualification, experience, type of their appointment, information regarding physical and academic infrastructure and other facilities including hostel accommodation and its fee, library, hospital or industry, why the practical training is to be imparted and in particular amenities accessible by students on being admitted to the institution.

Above all, the admission seekers and the general public are to be given complete information regarding disciplinary norms within and outside the campus of the institution and in particular aspects of discipline relating to prohibition of ragging and the consequence thereof and for violating any regulation in this behalf. Besides the information regarding availability of the student's grievance redressal mechanism, the procedure to register genuine complaints on institutional portal has also to be given wide publicity through website Print and other media.

The implementation of the UGC regulation does not involve much financial liability upon universities. Some universities have already in vogue the practice of publication of prospectus but such prospectus become available usually two/ three days earlier to the date of  issuance of advertisement for admissions or the submission of online applications while the regulations prescribe a period of 60 days before admission when the prospectus should  be facilitated. This is to ensure that admission-seekers get ample time to choose right institutions and courses of study/ programs of study.

It is desirable that prospectus of every  educational institution should be designed strictly as per new norms and must be made available on time as prescribed by the regulations. Most of the private higher educational institutions hardly provide any information to admission seekers where students are too often dumped without knowing about the infrastructure, quality of teaching, and amenities available.

In such situations the students face tremendous difficulties to get back their refundable amount once they choose to seek admission elsewhere. Therefore, it is in the interest of the student community that the above UGC regulations are strictly implemented in letter and spirit in universities as well as their  affiliated colleges.

Implementation of the UGC regulations can safeguard the academic interests of the students, especially in the era of new education policy which seeks to mould the academic system strictly in tune with the individual interests of the students.

Huge litigations against educational institutions by present or former students, including admission seekers, are launched primarily because of the absence of a fast track grievance redressal mechanism where a student can present and express his/her grievance in an ambient environment and where he or she will expect a reasoned decision based more on natural justice principles than ticklish and minor procedural norms/errors and omissions.

Once this new grievance redressal mechanism is facilitated, student community cannot have direct access to courts without availing the alternative efficacious and in-house available remedy. Thus huge time, money and energy, both of an educational institution as well as aggrieved students which get consumed in courts will be saved once the alternative mechanism is made available.

It would be again in the interests of an educational institution to provide a grievance redressal mechanism to its staff, both teaching and non-teaching on similar lines as provided under the above UGC Regulations and make the services of the Ombudsperson available as an appellate authority  to resolve numerous grievances especially relating to service matters of the staff.

This can also prevent vexatious litigations and save the time of courts as well. What is of more concern is that Universities that do not adhere or comply with these regulations, including recommendations/ decisions of Students Grievance Redressal Committee /Ombudsperson are liable to huge penalties including with-holding of grants/assistance/ recognition to their courses / withdrawal of declaration of fitness/suspension or with-holding of approvals for running online/distance mode courses etc.

By Prof. M. Ayub Dar

The author is a former Professor of Law, now an Advocate at High Court of J&K, and Ladakh.

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