The five students admitted having picked up some eatables like chips and chocolates and other items from the stalls but claimed that they thought that these items were left abandoned at the stalls
PANAJI: The Bombay High Court at Goa on Monday quashed the suspension and ordered two students studying at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Goa, to do community service for two months and two hours daily.
The students were allegedly caught stealing some items including chocolates, pens, desk lamps, among others from the stalls on the college campus.
Vuribindi Mokshith Reddy and Karri Kishore Ramachandra Reddy, aged 18 and 19 years respectively, were caught stealing along with three others.
Initially all five students were debarred from registration during semester I (2023-24) and two further semesters.
However, the three other students, the appellate authority dropped the penalty of cancellation of semesters but maintained the fine of ₹50,000.
The five students, including the petitioners, admitted having picked up some eatables like chips and chocolates and other items like mobile phone stands and speakers from the stalls but claimed that they were under the impression that these items were left abandoned at the stalls.
All of them not only returned the items immediately but expressed their apologies in writing.
However, in the case of the two petitioners, the director maintained the cancellation of semester and the fine of ₹50,000 prompting them to approach the high court.
The Bombay HC at Goa division bench led by the chief justice expressed its disappointment that despite the prodding of the high court, the institute’s director and senior professor refused to modify the punishment meted out claiming that “any reduction of punishment, at this stage, will encourage students to seek Court intervention against decisions given by the Institute, undermining the time-tested disciplinary system of the Institute.”
“The prime reason for not being merciful or for almost ignoring the reformative aspect, so clearly emphasised by the UGC guidelines, was the apprehension that students would seek Court intervention against the Institute’s decision and such Court intervention would undermine the disciplinary systems of the Institute. To say the least, this should not have been the approach of the Director, particularly when dealing with two 18-year-old students from his Institute,” the HC division bench said.
“We almost got the impression that the Director was irked by the fact that these two petitioners had dared to seek Court intervention against his decision… though we are hurt by this approach of the Director of an Institute of Eminence, we refrain from saying anything more because we are mindful that the two petitioners before us have to complete their education with the respondents for the next few years and not be scarred for life due to the indiscretion or even indiscipline indulged by them on this one occasion,” the HC also said.
The high court also while being “conscious that Courts normally do not interfere with the quantum of punishment imposed and leave it to the disciplinary authorities” felt it was necessary to do so “when it is found there is discrimination in a matter of imposition of penalties or, where the penalties imposed are in breach of the guidelines enacted by the Institute itself or where the penalty imposed excludes considerations of reformation.”
“The Institute cannot claim any immunity from judicial review. The institute has to explain the deviation from its own guidelines and cannot simply rely upon some unfettered discretion claimed by its director in such matters,” it said.
The high court then quashed the decision to debar the students from registration for one semester and instead replaced it with asking the two students to “undertake community service for a period of two months and for two hours each day” which they have agreed to do at an old age home not far from their institute.