In a major embarrassment for the state of Punjab, the Punjab and Haryana High Court today slammed shut the chapter of forcible affiliation of colleges imparting technical education to Maharaja Ranjit Singh State Technical University (MRSSTU).The Bench of Justice Mahesh Grover and Justice Lisa Gill also expressed its disapproval of capital outflow from Punjab Technical University to MRSSTU under the provisions of an Act.The Bench also made it clear that students have a legitimate right to choose an institution and its affiliate university, “as these have a direct bearing on the quality of education and their career prospectus in life”. Estimates suggest more than 1 lakh students would benefit.The developments took place on three petitions by the Punjab Technical University Non-Teaching Employees Association and other petitioners. The Bench was told that PTU was created under the Punjab Technical University Act of 1996 for advancement of technical education and its development.However, the state created another university through Maharaja Ranjit Singh State Technical University Act of 2014 with the same avowed object.Its operation was, however, confined to territorial limits of districts such as Bathinda, Barnala, Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Fazilka, Ferozepur, Mansa, Moga, Muktsar, Patiala, Sangrur and regions outside Punjab.The 2014 Act further provided that any college imparting technical education situated within the geographical limits of specified districts would deem to be associated with and admitted to the privileges of MRSSTU. It would cease to be associated in any way with or admitted to any privileges of PTU.The court was also told that impugned Section 5(2) of 2014 Act extinguished arrangements with PTU and admitted it to “the privileges of the MRSSTU” primarily on account of an institute’s geographical placement.A counsel for a private institute argued Section 5(2) clearly violated their fundamental right under Article 19. They could not be forced into affiliation with “some university of which they do not approve, particularly when PTU has a greater standing and enjoys a better reputation”.The Bench asserted individual liberties would be rendered illusory, if freedom to exercise a choice was left to the state’s discretion. A private institution with no financial aid from the government stood liberated from its control. It was largely bound to observe regulatory discipline, but could not be made to fall to government dictates.“A choice of a college to affiliate itself with a university ought to be respected…. It would have been a much better way to ensure competition between the universities to offer a choice to the colleges to affiliate with either of the universities… Section 5(2), which forces an affiliation upon a college, has to be viewed disapprovingly… It is, thus, imperative for the state to have solicited the choice of the institution in this regard,” the Bench said.The Bench added Section 20(2) of the 2014 Act warranting capital outflow from PTU would clearly be an infringement on its financial autonomy. It permitted financial poaching to deprive the PTU even of finances that did not belong to the government. “Money collected from students of PTU, alumni and philanthropists cannot be squandered away as it is clearly a breach of faith of these contributors who volunteered for the corpus fund of the PTU,” the Bench added.
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