The Bombay High Court has held that the Mumbai University's ordinance mandating a minimum 50 per cent attendance was in the interest of students and thus, even the highest authority in the university had no power to allow any undue relaxation in the rule.
In the order passed on Thursday, a bench of justices B R Gavai and B P Colabawalla also held that the discretionary powers over students' attendance was vested only with the colleges' respective attendance committees and their principals and that the university can't claim to be the "supreme appellate authority" in such cases.
The bench was hearing a petition filed against the Mumbai University's grievance cell by a college in Kandivli.
The petitioner, B K Shroff College, had alleged that the university's cell did not take strict action against the attendance defaulters and that it often allowed such students, who did not have the minimum requisite attendance, to appear for exams.
The petitioner alleged that in March 2017, about 100 commerce students were barred from appearing for their second semester exams since they had less than 50 per cent attendance.
Thirty-eight of these students had approached the university's grievance cell (commerce) and it asked the college to allow the defaulters to take the exams despite the fact that they had less than 50 per cent attendance.
The university's ordinance on students' attendance mandates that each student maintains 75 per cent attendance. However, the college principals have the power to condone deficiency in attendance up to 25 per cent, if the deficiency is on account of bonafide exigencies, and was approved by the college attendance committee.
The university's counsel, advocate Rui Rodrigues, however, told the high court that the university's grievance cell intervened and granted relief to the students only if it was convinced that the relief was a well-deserved one.
"The ordinance is made by the university itself so the university is the ultimate appellate authority and can have the power to use its discretion on a case-to-case basis," Rodrigues said.
He also cited a previous judgement of another bench of the high court that had granted relief in a similar case after holding that the university was the supreme appellate authority when it came to academic disputes.
The bench, however, rejected the above argument.
"A strict view on attendance must be maintained in the larger interest of not only the student, but also of the institution or university. The ordinance is meant to protect the interest of the state and it can't be implemented haphazardly. Even the highest authority in the university has no power to allow any undue relaxation in the rule.
"We can't accept the argument that the university is the supreme appellate body. Any relaxation in case of bonafide exigencies can be granted only by the college committee and the principal and even then a student must have minimum attendance of 50 per cent," the bench said.
"A student can't do well unless he or she attends classes and follows the rules of his or her institute. The university must remember that it is the protector or custodian of the academic interest of the students," the bench said.
On a previous hearing, the HC had directed the college to declare its results and permit the students to continue in the third semester after they gave an undertaking stating they would maintain 75 per cent attendance in future.