writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India have prayed for directing the University Grants Commission, (hereinafter referred to as ‘UGC’) to issue a clarification that the degrees of Bachelor of Technology (hereinafter referred to as ‘B.Tech.’) acquired by them through open and distance learning mode from the Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala, (hereinafter referred to as ‘TIET, Patiala’) are valid, recognised and should be treated at par Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 2 of 35 with degrees granted to regular students who have undertaken such courses in TIET, Patiala and other recognised universities.?

Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 1 of 35
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 1510 OF 2018
VINIT GARG AND OTHERS ….. PETITIONERS(S)
VERSUS
UNIVERSITY GRANTS COMMISSION
AND OTHERS ….. RESPONDENT(S)
J U D G M E N T
SANJIV KHANNA, J.
The petitioners, 92 in number, in this writ petition under
Article 32 of the Constitution of India have prayed for directing the
University Grants Commission, (hereinafter referred to as ‘UGC’)
to issue a clarification that the degrees of Bachelor of Technology
(hereinafter referred to as ‘B.Tech.’) acquired by them through
open and distance learning mode from the Thapar Institute of
Engineering and Technology, Patiala, (hereinafter referred to as
‘TIET, Patiala’) are valid, recognised and should be treated at par
Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 2 of 35
with degrees granted to regular students who have undertaken
such courses in TIET, Patiala and other recognised universities.

  1. UGC is refusing to treat the technical degrees issued by TIET,
    Patiala under distance learning mode as valid, primarily for the
    reason that the B.Tech. courses conducted by TIET, Patiala were
    without their approval and approval of the All India Council for
    Technical Education (hereinafter referred to as ‘AICTE’).
  2. The petitioners who are diploma holders in Civil/ Computer
    Science/ Electrical/ Mechanical Engineering and working in the
    Government of Punjab have stated that they were selected for the
    B.Tech. degree course through the distance mode programme on
    the basis of competitive examination conducted by TIET, Patiala,
    which is deemed to be a university under Section 3 of the
    University Grants Commission Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to
    as ‘UGC Act’). The petitioners highlight that TIET, Patiala, rated as
    one of the premier engineering universities/colleges by the
    Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India,
    was set up in 1956 for promoting the study of technical education
    and has a 250 acre campus located in Patiala with teaching
    faculty strength of 391, including 301 Ph.D. holders, and
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 3 of 35
    undertakes 11 undergraduate courses and 23 postgraduate
    courses. The total strength of students is more than 8000 with
    nearly 700 research students doing Ph.D. The National
    Assessment and Accreditation Council, an autonomous body
    established by the Ministry of Human Resource Development,
    Government of India, has accredited the said institution/deemed to
    be university Grade ‘A’ status besides placing the institution in
    Tier-I accreditation. Distance Education Council (hereinafter
    referred to as ‘DEC’) vide its letter dated 3
    rd September, 2007 had
    granted provisional recognition to TIET, Patiala for offering
    programmes through distance mode for a period of one year on
    the basis of which TIET, Patiala had offered B.Tech. degree in
    Civil / Computer Science / Electrical / Mechanical Engineering to
    working professionals who already had a diploma and had at least
    two years’ experience in the respective branches in engineering in
    the academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09. No admissions were
    made after 29
    th July, 2009. The petitioners had taken admission
    in the prestigious deemed to be university verily believing that all
    approvals were in place. The petitioners, relying on the judgment
    of this Court in Bharathidasan University and Another v. All
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 4 of 35
    India Council for Technical Education and Others,
    1 have
    argued that a deemed to be university is not required to seek prior
    approval of the AICTE to start a department for imparting a course
    or a programme in technical education. Reference was made to
    paragraph 49 of the judgment of this Court in Orissa Lift
    Irrigation Corporation Limited v. Rabi Sankar Patro and
    Others2
    (hereinafter referred to as Orissa Lift Irrigation
    Corporation Limited-I) to assert that TIET, Patiala, being a
    premier institution authorised to undertake courses and issue
    degrees in the aforesaid technical fields, was not required to take
    any approval of the AICTE. Reliance was also placed on the
    order and judgment dated 10th April, 2018 in Civil Appeal Nos.
    3697-3698 of 2018 in Jawaharlal Nehru Technological
    University v. The Chairman and Managing Director,
    Transmission Corporation of Telangana Limited. There were
    no off-campus centres or study centres and all instruction,
    practicals and examinations were conducted on the campus of
    TIET, Patiala using the same faculty and infrastructure as used in
    the traditional B.Tech. courses. The studies were of high standard
    as the students had to pass 42 subjects with practicals to earn the
    1
    (2001) 8 SCC 676
    2
    (2018) 1 SCC 468
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 5 of 35
    degree. Out of 1168 students admitted to the B.Tech. courses
    through distance learning mode, only 822 students were awarded
    degree.
  3. We may at the outset record that the petitioners have given up
    and not raised the contention that the decision authored by one of
    us (Uday Umesh Lalit, J.) in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-I is per incuriam for the ratio is contrary to the decision in
    Bharathidasan University (supra). Indeed, such contention
    cannot be accepted as the latter decision has been considered in
    Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I.
  4. We record our inability to accept the contentions raised by the
    petitioners, for they are misconstruing the judgment of this Court
    in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I which settles the
    controversy beyond any doubt and debate.
  5. The UGC Act was legislated for coordination and determination of
    standards of higher education in India with commandment to the
    UGC to take such steps as may be necessary for promotion and
    coordination of higher education in universities and institutions.
    The UGC, therefore, fixes and ensures maintenance of standards
    in teaching, examination and research in higher education. To fix
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 6 of 35
    and enforce these standards, the UGC has framed rules and
    regulations, and issues guidelines under the UGC Act.
  6. Referring to the UGC Act in Annamalai University Represented
    by Registrar v. Secretary to Government, Information and
    Tourism Department and Others,
    3
    this Court had observed that
    no relaxation can be granted with regard to the basic things
    necessary for conferment of a degree and if the mandatory
    provisions are not complied with by an administering authority, the
    action would be void. Decision of this Court in Annamalai
    University (supra) has some relevance for it had examined the
    interplay between the provisions of the UGC Act and Indira
    Gandhi National Open University Act, 1985 (hereinafter referred to
    as ‘Open University Act’) and the purported repugnance between
    the two. The UGC Act, it was observed, was enacted to make
    provisions for coordination and determination of standards in
    universities and for this purpose, the UGC was established by the
    Central Government in terms of Section 4 of the UGC Act with its
    powers and functions laid down in Chapter III. Section 12 of the
    UGC Act provides for functions of the UGC, relevant provisions of
    which are reproduced as under:
    3
    (2009) 4 SCC 590
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 7 of 35
    “12. Functions of the Commission.⎯It shall be the
    general duty of the Commission to take, in
    consultation with the Universities or other bodies
    concerned, all such steps as it may think fit for the
    promotion and co-ordination of University
    education and for the determination and
    maintenance of standards of teaching,
    examination and research in Universities, and for
    the purpose of performing its functions under this
    Act, the Commission may⎯
    x x x
    (d) recommend to any University the measures
    necessary for the improvement of University
    education and advise the University upon the
    action to be taken for the purpose of implementing
    such recommendation;
    x x x
    (i) require a University to furnish it with such
    information as may be needed relating to the
    financial position of the University or the studies in
    the various branches of learning undertaken in
    that University, together with all the rules and
    regulations relating to the standards of teaching
    and examination in that University respecting each
    of such branches of learning;”
    Section 22 of the UGC Act relates to the rights of a
    university/deemed university/institution to confer degrees and subsection (1) thereof reads as under:
    “22. Right to confer degrees.⎯(1) The right of
    conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised
    only by a University established or incorporated by
    or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State
    Act or an institution deemed to be a University
    under Section 3 or an institution specially
    empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or
    grant degrees.”
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 8 of 35
    In Annamalai University (supra), the Open University Act, it
    was held, was enacted to establish and incorporate an open
    university at the national level for the introduction and promotion
    of open university and distance education systems in the
    educational pattern of the country and for coordination and
    determination of standards in such system. Recording the
    contention that the distance education programme attenuates the
    rigidity of the traditional system requiring attendance in class
    rooms that disincentivises many learners, this Court in Annamalai
    University (supra), referring to the UGC Act and the role of the
    UGC, had observed as under:
    “40. The UGC Act was enacted by Parliament in
    exercise of its power under Entry 66 of List I of the
    Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India
    whereas the Open University Act was enacted by
    Parliament in exercise of its power under Entry 25
    of List III thereof. The question of repugnancy of
    the provisions of the said two Acts, therefore, does
    not arise. It is true that the Statement of Objects
    and Reasons of Open University Act shows that
    the formal system of education had not been able
    to provide an effective means to equalise
    educational opportunities. The system is rigid inter
    alia in respect of attendance in classrooms.
    Combinations of subjects are also inflexible.
  7. Was the alternative system envisaged under the
    Open University Act in substitution of the formal
    system is the question. In our opinion, in the
    matter of ensuring the standard of education, it is
    not. The distinction between a formal system and
    informal system is in the mode and manner in
    which education is imparted. The UGC Act was
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 9 of 35
    enacted for effectuating co- ordination and
    determination of standards in universities. The
    purport and object for which it was enacted must
    be given full effect.
  8. The provisions of the UGC Act are binding on all
    universities whether conventional or open. Its
    powers are very broad. The Regulations framed
    by it in terms of clauses (e), (f), (g) and (h) of subsection (1) of Section 26 are of wide amplitude.
    They apply equally to open universities as also to
    formal conventional universities. In the matter of
    higher education, it is necessary to maintain
    minimum standards of instructions. Such minimum
    standards of instructions are required to be
    defined by UGC. The standards and the coordination of work or facilities in universities must
    be maintained and for that purpose required to be
    regulated. The powers of UGC under Sections
    26(1) (f) and 26(1) (g) are very broad in nature.
    […]”
  9. Annamalai University (supra) makes a reference to an earlier
    judgment in State of Tamil Nadu and Another v. Adhiyaman
    Educational and Research Institute and Others4
    in which this
    Court had, with regard the enactment of the UGC Act by
    Parliament in exercise of power under Entry 66 of List-I, observed
    as under:
    “41. What emerges from the above discussion is as
    follows:
    (i) The expression ‘coordination’ used in Entry 66 of
    the Union List of Seventh Schedule of the
    Constitution does not merely mean evaluation. It
    means harmonisation with a view to forge a
    uniform pattern for a concerted action according to
    4
    (1995) 4 SCC 104
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 10 of 35
    a certain design, scheme or plan of development.
    It, therefore, includes action not only for removal
    of disparities in standards but also for preventing
    the occurrence of such disparities. It would,
    therefore, also include power to do all things which
    are necessary to prevent what would make
    ‘coordination’ either impossible or difficult. This
    power is absolute and unconditional and in the
    absence of any valid compelling reasons, it must
    be given its full effect according to its plain and
    express intention.”
    Reference was also made to Osmania University
    Teachers’ Association v. State of Andhra Pradesh and
    Another5 wherein, with regard to the responsibility entrusted upon
    the UGC under the UGC Act, it was held as under:
    “30. The Constitution of India vests Parliament with
    exclusive authority in regard to coordination and
    determination of standards in institutions for higher
    education. The Parliament has enacted the UGC
    Act for that purpose. The University Grants
    Commission has, therefore, a greater role to play
    in shaping the academic life of the country. It shall
    not falter or fail in its duty to maintain a high
    standard in the universities. Democracy depends
    for its very life on a high standard or general,
    vocational and professional education.
    Dissemination of learning with search for new
    knowledge with discipline all round must be
    maintained at all costs. It is hoped that University
    Grants Commission will duly discharge its
    responsibility to the nation and play an increasing
    role to bring about the needed transformation in
    the academic life of the Universities.”
    5
    (1987) 4 SCC 671
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 11 of 35
  10. Accordingly, in Annamalai University (supra) it was held that the
    UGC Act would prevail over the Open University Act, observing:
    “59. The provisions of the UGC Act are not in conflict
    with the provisions of the Open University Act. It
    is beyond any cavil of doubt that the UGC Act
    shall prevail over the Open University Act. It has,
    however, been argued that the Open University
    Act is a later Act. But we have noticed
    hereinbefore that the nodal Ministry knew of the
    provisions of both the Acts. The Regulations were
    framed almost at the same time after passing of
    the Open University Act. The Regulations were
    framed at a later point of time. Indisputably, the
    Regulations embrace within its fold the matters
    covered under the Open University Act also.”
  11. In Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I, reference was
    made to All India Council for Technical Education Act, 1989
    (hereinafter referred to as ‘AICTE Act’) and distinction was drawn
    between ‘technical education’ and ‘technical institution’ as defined
    in Section 2(g) and 2(h) respectively to observe that functions of
    the AICTE stipulated under sub-clauses (a), (d), (e), (f), (l) and (n)
    of Section 10 of the AICTE Act are concerned with the broader
    facets of ‘technical education’, while functions enumerated under
    sub-clauses (k), (m), (p) and (q) deal with matters concerning
    ‘technical institutions’ and the functions as set out in sub-clauses
    (g) and (o) apply to both ‘technical institutions’ and universities
    imparting ‘technical education’. Sub-clauses (b), (d) and (f) of
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 12 of 35
    Section 10 deal with, inter alia, coordination of the technical
    education in the country at all levels; promoting innovation,
    research and development, establishment of new technologies,
    generation, adoption and adaptation of new technologies to meet
    the development requirements; and promoting effecting link
    between technical education and systems and other relevant
    systems. Drawing on the distinction between ‘technical education’
    and ‘technical institution’ and multifarious functions of the AICTE
    prescribed by Section 10 of the AICTE Act, it was held that the
    AICTE is the sole repository of power to lay down parameters or
    qualitative norms for ‘technical education’ and it would, therefore,
    not matter whether the term ‘technical institution’ would exclude a
    university/deemed to be university. What should be course
    content, what subjects should be taught and what should be the
    length and duration of the courses as well as the manner in which
    those courses be conducted is a part of the larger concept of
    ‘technical education’. Any idea or innovation in that field is also a
    part of the concept of ‘technical education’ and must, as a matter
    of principle, be in the exclusive domain of the AICTE.
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 13 of 35
  12. Accordingly, the Court in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-I distinguished the decision in Bharathidasan University
    (supra), which had, relying upon the definition in clause 2(h) on
    the meaning of the term ‘technical institution’, held that a deemed
    to be university established under a state law was entitled to start
    courses in ‘technical education’ without any approval of the
    AICTE. This was done by limiting Bharathidasan University’s
    (supra) application to courses/programmes integrally
    adjunct/connected to the sanctioned and permitted courses and
    programmes, and not to new and different courses/programmes
    like award of B.Tech. degrees through distance learning mode.
    On role of the AICTE and distance learning as a mode for
    acquiring B. Tech degrees, it was held in Orissa Lift Irrigation
    Corporation Limited-I that:
    “48. Technical education leading to the award of
    degrees in Engineering consists of imparting of
    lessons in theory as well as practicals. The
    practicals form the backbone of such education
    which is hands-on approach involving actual
    application of principles taught in theory under the
    watchful eyes of demonstrators or lecturers. Face
    to face imparting of knowledge in theory classes is
    to be reinforced in practical classes. The practicals,
    thus, constitute an integral part of the technical
    education system. If this established concept of
    imparting technical education as a qualitative norm
    is to be modified or altered and in a given case to
    be substituted by distance education learning, then
    as a concept AICTE ought to have accepted it in
    clear terms. What parameters ought to be satisfied
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 14 of 35
    if the regular course of imparting technical
    education is in any way to be modified or altered, is
    for AICTE alone to decide. The decision must be
    specific and unequivocal and cannot be inferred
    merely because of absence of any guidelines in
    the matter. No such decision was ever expressed
    by AICTE. On the other hand, it has always
    maintained that courses leading to degrees in
    Engineering cannot be undertaken through
    distance education mode. Whether that approach
    is correct or not is not the point in issue. For the
    present purposes, if according to AICTE such
    courses ought not to be taught in distance
    education mode, that is the final word and is
    binding—unless rectified in a manner known to
    law. Even National Policy on Education while
    emphasising the need to have a flexible, pattern
    and programmes through distance education
    learning in technical and managerial education,
    laid down in Para 6.19 that AICTE will be
    responsible for planning, formulation and
    maintenance of norms and standards including
    maintenance of parity of certification and ensuring
    coordinated and integrated development of
    technical and management education. In our view,
    whether subjects leading to degrees in
    Engineering could be taught in distance education
    mode or not is within the exclusive domain
    of AICTE. The answer to the first limb of the first
    question posed by us is therefore clear that without
    the guidelines having been issued in that behalf
    by AICTE expressly permitting degree courses in
    Engineering through distance education mode, the
    deemed to be universities were not justified in
    introducing such courses.”
    From the dictum laid down above, it is plainly clear that
    approval of the AICTE was mandatory for starting the aforesaid
    courses. Admittedly, approval of the AICTE was not obtained by
    TIET, Patiala.
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 15 of 35
  13. We would now revert to the question of approval of the UGC. In
    Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I, reference was
    made to paragraphs 4 and 5 of the ‘Guidelines for Establishing
    New Departments Within the Campus, Setting Up of Off-Campus
    Centre(s)/Institution(s)/Off-Shore Campus and Starting Distance
    Education Programmes by the Deemed Universities’ (hereinafter
    referred to as ‘2004 Guidelines’), issued by the UGC which dealt
    with the procedure to be followed by deemed to be universities
    offering distance education programmes, which read as under:
    “4. Distance education.—The deemed to be
    university could offer the distance education
    programmes only with the specific approval of the
    Distance Education Council (DEC) and the
    University Grants Commission (UGC). As such,
    any study centre(s) can be opened only with the
    specific approval of Distance Education Council
    and UGC.
  14. Ex post facto approval.—The deemed
    universities shall obtain the ex post facto approval
    of the GOI/UGC/DEC, whichever applicable within
    a period of six months in the following cases:
    I. Continuation of all the departments opened in the
    campus of the deemed universities and off-campus
    study centre(s)/institutions/off-shore campus
    started without the prior approval of the UGC.
    II. Distance education programme(s)/study centre(s)
    started without the specific approval of the
    DEC/UGC.”
    Paragraph 4 makes it crystal clear that post the 2004
    Guidelines, every deemed to be university would require
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 16 of 35
    approvals of the UGC and DEC, for starting any degree course
    through open and distance learning mode. The condition of
    approval was mandatory. It is not the case of the petitioners or
    TIET, Patiala that the latter had taken prior approval of the UGC
    for the B.Tech. degrees obtained through distance learning mode.
    Paragraph 5 relates to ex-post facto approval of the UGC/DEC for
    continuation of distance education programmes/study centres
    started without specific approval of the UGC/DEC. Paragraph 5 is
    not applicable in the present case as the degree courses were
    started post enactment of the 2004 Guidelines.
  15. Faced and conscious of the clear violation of paragraph 4 of the
    2004 Guidelines and absence of the AICTE’s approval, learned
    senior counsel for the petitioners had relied on paragraph 49 of
    Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I, which reads as
    under:
    “49. We now move to the second limb of the first
    question. Under the 1994 AICTE Regulations, “no
    courses or programmes shall be introduced by any
    technical institution, university including a deemed
    university or university department or college
    except with the approval of the Council”.
    Bharathidasan declared the said Regulation to the
    extent it required a university to have approval for
    introducing any courses or programmes in
    technical education, to be bad. Same thought was
    amplified in Assn. of Management of Private
    Colleges to say that affiliated colleges of the
    University were entitled to the same protection.
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 17 of 35
    The question is, whether a deemed to be university
    is also entitled to the same protection. The matter
    can be considered under two categories:
    (a) The first category could be of a deemed to be
    university, which was conferred such status for its
    excellence in a field of technological subject, is now
    desirous of introducing courses or programmes
    integrally connected with the area in respect of
    which it was conferred deemed to be university
    status. For example, an Engineering college which
    because of its excellence in the field was conferred
    deemed university status, now wishes to introduce
    courses in subjects like Robotics or Nano
    Technology which are Engineering subjects and
    integrally connected with its own field of excellence.
    (b) The second category could be of a deemed to be
    university which was conferred such status for its
    excellence in subjects which are completely
    unrelated to the field in which new courses are
    sought to be introduced. For example, an
    institution engaged in teaching Fine Arts and
    Music, for its excellence in that chosen field—or for
    that matter an institution engaged in teaching Law
    had been conferred such status. Can such a
    deemed to be university claim immunity from
    regulatory control of AICTE and say that it is
    entitled, as a matter of right, to introduce courses
    in Engineering on the strength of the decision of
    this Court in Bharathidasan?”
    In our opinion, the petitioners and TIET, Patiala are
    misconstruing paragraph 49 of Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-I. The aforesaid paragraph refers to the 1994
    Regulations issued by the AICTE under which no courses or
    programmes could be introduced by any technical institution/
    university, including a deemed university or a university
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 18 of 35
    department or college, except with approval of the AICTE. In
    Bharathidasan University (supra) this mandate of the 1994
    Regulations was declared to be bad to the extent that it had
    required the university to take approval for introducing any course
    or programme in technical education. Same opinion was
    expressed in Association of Management of Private Colleges
    v. All India Council for Technical Education and Others
    6
    to
    state that affiliated colleges of the university are entitled to the
    same protection. Thereupon, in Orissa Lift Irrigation
    Corporation Limited-I a distinction was made by creating two
    categories of deemed to be universities – Category-I, i.e. such
    deemed to be universities that have been conferred status of
    ‘excellence’ in the field of technical subjects and desire to
    introduce courses or programmes ‘integrally connected’ with the
    area of subjects for which they had been conferred deemed to be
    university status. Clarifying this, the Court had cited an example of
    an engineering college of excellence that has been conferred
    deemed to be university status and now wish to introduce courses
    in new or specialised subjects like robotics and nanotechnology,
    which subjects were integrally connected to the university’s own
    6
    (2013) 8 SCC 271
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 19 of 35
    field of excellence. Category-II would be of those universities that
    have been conferred deemed to be university status for
    excellence in subjects, but want to introduce new courses
    unrelated to the field for which they were conferred status of
    excellence. In the latter category, the deemed to be university
    cannot claim immunity from regulatory control of the AICTE and
    must take approval of the AICTE. Paragraph 49, we would like to
    clarify, deals with universities including deemed to be universities
    imparting higher education for degree courses/programmes
    through regular mode. This paragraph does not specifically deal
    with or confer any right upon the deemed to be universities to start
    distance education courses, even if integrally connected with the
    approved regular courses.
  16. The foregoing analysis becomes clear when we read Orissa Lift
    Irrigation Corporation Limited-I in its entirety, particularly the
    immediately preceding paragraph, i.e. paragraph 48 as quoted
    above, wherein it has been specifically stipulated and mandated
    that whether subjects leading to degrees in engineering would be
    taught in distance education mode or not is within the exclusive
    domain of the AICTE.
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 20 of 35
  17. In view of the aforesaid statutory provisions and lack of prior
    approval of the UGC or AICTE, we do not think that TIET, Patiala
    was competent to award graduation degrees in technical courses
    via distance mode.
  18. In Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I, the Court also
    made a distinction between students who had taken admission in
    deemed to be universities offering technical degrees through
    distance learning in the academic years 2001 to 2005 and 2005-
    2006 onwards. The reason for distinction was paragraph 5 of the
    2004 Guidelines and ex-post facto approvals granted by the UGC
    and DEC to deemed to be universities that had offered technical
    degrees in the academic years 2001-2005. It was held that the
    said exercise of grant of ex-post facto approvals was completely
    uncalled for and contrary to law and illegal. Accordingly, the ex
    post facto approvals were set aside with the consequential
    directions to recall all the engineering degrees granted pursuant to
    the said approvals. However, conscious that the ex post facto
    approvals were in terms of paragraph 5 of the 2004 Guidelines,
    while suspending the degrees awarded to students who had been
    enrolled during the academic years 2001 to 2005, the Court had
    given these students an opportunity to appear and clear such
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 21 of 35
    examination under joint supervision of the AICTE-UGC. It was
    observed:
    “57. [T]he matter is required to be considered with
    some sympathy so that interest of those students
    who were enrolled during the academic sessions
    2001-2005 is protected. Though we cannot wish
    away the fact that the concerned Deemed to be
    Universities flagrantly violated and entered into
    areas where they had no experience and started
    conducting courses through distance education
    system illegally, the over bearing interest of the
    concerned students persuades us not to resort to
    recall of all the degrees in Engineering granted in
    pursuance of said ex-post-facto approval.
    However, the fact remains that the facilities
    available at the concerned Study Centres were
    never checked nor any inspections were
    conducted. It is not possible at this length of time
    to order any inspection. But there must be
    confidence and assurance about the worthiness of
    the concerned students. We, therefore, deem it
    appropriate to grant some chance to the
    concerned students to have their ability tested by
    authorities competent in that behalf. We,
    therefore, direct that all the degrees in
    Engineering granted to students who were
    enrolled during the academic years 2001 to 2005
    shall stand suspended till they pass such
    examination under the joint supervision of AICTEUGC in the manner indicated hereinafter. Further,
    every single advantage on the basis of that
    degree shall also stand suspended.”
    The aforesaid directions were not in respect of any
    engineering degree granted by deemed to be universities to
    candidates admitted/enrolled post the academic year 2004-2005.
    Grant of any degree for students enrolled post the academic year
    2004-2005 was held as contrary to law and illegal, and could not
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 22 of 35
    be treated as regular and at par with the regular degrees.
    Therefore, paragraph 49 would not be of any avail to the
    petitioners.
  19. We would also refer to the second round of litigation as
    applications were filed seeking clarification and modification of the
    directions in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I. The
    decision dated 22
    nd January, 2018 in Orissa Lift Irrigation
    Corporation Limited v. Rabi Sankar Patro and Others7
    (hereinafter referred to as ‘Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-II’) had decided several applications of diploma holders
    who had enrolled for engineering or B.Tech. degree in deemed to
    be universities through distance learning mode. One of the
    contentions raised in the applications was that the deemed to be
    universities awarding engineering degrees through distance
    learning mode in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I
    were not institutes of excellence in the field of engineering and,
    thus, there would be a distinction between engineering degrees
    awarded through distance education mode by deemed to be
    universities declared as institutions of excellence and the degrees
    awarded by other deemed to be universities. This contention was
    7
    (2018) 2 SCC 298
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 23 of 35
    squarely rejected by referring to the fact that engineering degrees
    through distance education mode awarded by Vinayaka Mission’s
    Research Foundation in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-I had been also declared to be invalid, though the said
    institution in its field of activity and excellence included the subject
    of engineering. Dealing with other contentions raised by the
    applicants, the Court in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-II held as under:
    “25. We now turn to the general submission advanced
    by all the learned counsel that the candidates after
    securing the degrees in Engineering through
    distance education mode, have advanced in career
    and that their ability was tested at various levels
    and as such requirement of passing the
    examination in terms of the judgment be dispensed
    within their case. We cannot make any such
    exception. The infirmity in their degrees is basis
    and fundamental and cannot be wished away. At
    the same time, we find some force in their
    submission that if the suspension of their degrees
    and all advantages were to apply as indicated in
    the judgment, the candidates concerned may lose
    their jobs and even if they were to successfully
    pass the test, restoration of their jobs and present
    position would pose some difficulty.
    The Court, therefore, granting a one-time relaxation to the
    candidates who had enrolled themselves during the academic
    years 2001-2005, held that candidates would, in terms of the
    judgment in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited I, be
    eligible to appear for the test conducted by the AICTE.
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 24 of 35
  20. Given the aforesaid ratio, we reject the plea that the petitioners
    are entitled to relief as was granted to the petitioners in Orissa
    Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited I and II. This contention is
    unacceptable for the reason that in Orissa Lift Irrigation
    Corporation Limited I and II, no relief was granted to the
    candidates who had taken admission in 2005 or thereafter. Relief
    in the form of one-time relaxation vide examination to be
    conducted by the AICTE was granted to those
    candidates/students who had taken admission in academic years
    beginning from 2001 and till 2004-2005.
  21. TIET, Patiala in their additional affidavit have referred to the
    correspondence with the DEC expressing their desire to start
    B.Tech. courses in Civil Engineering/ Computer Sciences and
    Engineering/ Electrical Engineering/ Mechanical Engineering
    through distance learning programme, vide their letter dated 17th
    May, 2006 and reply of the DEC vide its letter dated 16th June,
    2006 that such approvals can only be granted after evaluation of
    the course material by an expert committee and for which TIET,
    Patiala should apply in the prescribed format with requisite fee.
    Thereupon, TIET, Patiala had submitted an application in the
    required format and an expert committee constituted by the
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 25 of 35
    Chairman of the DEC had evaluated infrastructure and other
    services etc., provided by TIET, Patiala. The expert committee,
    which included the Director, School of Engineering and
    Technology, IGNOU, gave a favourable report subsequent to
    which the letter of provisional recognition dated 31st August, 2007
    was issued by the DEC permitting TIET, Patiala to start the
    course. Reference was also made to the press note dated 23rd
    May, 2007 released by Press Information Bureau, Government of
    India, which had published a list of universities including deemed
    to be universities offering distance education. This list also
    included TIET, Patiala.
  22. As already stated, the petitioners have also relied upon letter
    dated 3
    rd September, 2007 written to TIET, Patiala by the DEC
    providing them provisional recognition for one year in programmes
    offered through distance mode. The said letter reads as under:
    “INDIRA GANDHI NATIONAL OPEN UNIVERSITY
    Maindan Garhi, New Delhi – 110068, India
    Phone: (O) 91-11-29535923-32, 29533340 (O)
    Telefax: 91-11-295536668
    Email: basuswaraj@hotmail.com
    Website: http://www.ignou.ac.in/www.dec.ac.in
    DISTANCE EDUCATION COUNCIL
    F.No. DEC/Univ/State/07/5580
    Dated: 03.09.2007
    Prof. Swaraj Basu
    Director
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 26 of 35
    Sub: Provisional Recognition
    Dear Sir,
    This has reference to your application to the
    Distance Education Council requesting for recognition of
    programmes offered through distance mode by your
    University.
    We would like to inform you that your university has
    been granted provisional recognition for offering
    programmes (approved by the statutory bodies of your
    university) through distance mode for a period of oneyear w.e.f. the date of issue of this letter.
    However, for recognition of your institution for
    offering programmes through distance mode in the next
    academic year, i.e. from June-July, 2008, you are
    requested to submit a fresh application in the prescribed
    format developed by the DEC which may be
    downloaded from the DEC website: http://www.dec.ac.in.
    We would also like to inform you that that DEC has
    decided not to insist on territorial jurisdiction to be
    allowed by institutions in offering programmes through
    distance mode and on that matter, universities should
    be governed by their own Acts and Statutes.
    With regards,
    Yours sincerely
    Sd/-
    (Swaraj Basu)
    The Vice Chancellor
    Thapar University
    Patiala – 147004, Punjab”
    The aforesaid letter states that TIET, Patiala had made an
    application to the DEC requesting for recognition of programmes
    offered through distance mode and that they had been granted
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 27 of 35
    provisional recognition for offering such programmes. The letter
    records that an application was submitted by TIET, Patiala but no
    specific reference was made to the programmes or courses
    offered nor the date when the application was filed is indicated.
    The letter also does not refer to approval by the AICTE or UGC. It
    had further required TIET, Patiala to submit a fresh application for
    the next academic year from June-July 2008.
  23. We have already referred to the 2004 Guidelines issued by the
    UGC and the AICTE Act to hold that TIET, Patiala had failed to
    take their prior approval before starting B. Tech. degree courses
    through distance education mode. Provisional recognition by the
    DEC being contrary to the law would not matter for at best the
    DEC would be equally guilty for violating the law in terms of 2004
    Guidelines issued by the UGC and the AICTE Act. The legal
    issue stands foreclosed and cannot be argued in view of the clear
    dictum and ratio enunciated in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation
    Limited-I. We would also refer to the notification issued by the
    Government of India on 1st March 1995 quoted in Orissa Lift
    Irrigation Corporation Limited-I on distance education
    programme by deemed to be universities etc., which was to the
    following effect:
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 28 of 35
    “On the recommendation of the Board of Assessment
    for Education Qualifications, the Government of India
    has decided that all the qualifications awarded through
    Distance Education by the Universities established by
    an Act of Parliament or State Legislature, Institutions
    Deemed to be Universities under Section 3 of the UGC
    Act, 1956 and Institutions of National importance
    declared under an Act of Parliament stand automatically
    recognized for the purpose of employment to posts and
    services under the Central Government, provided it has
    been approved by Distance Education Council, Indira
    Gandhi Nation Open University, K 76, Hauz Khas, New
    Delhi-110016 and wherever necessary by All India
    Council for Technical Education, I.G. Sports Complex,
    I.P. Estate, New Delhi.”
    Clearly, therefore, in terms of the said notification also
    approval of the AICTE was required.
  24. TIET, Patiala accepts that no approval, provisional or otherwise,
    was granted for the next academic year, i.e. June-July 2008, yet
    B.Tech. degree programmes through distance mode for the
    academic year June-July 2008 were offered by TIET, Patiala
    contrary to the statutes and law.
  25. TIET, Patiala, to justify admissions in the academic year 2008-
    2009 in their additional affidavit, have referred to correspondence
    and submission of application to the UGC for offering B. Tech.
    degree courses through distance education programme for the
    academic session i.e. 2008-2009. This is surprising as TIET,
    Patiala had not applied to the UGC for the previous academic
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 29 of 35
    session i.e. 2007-2008. Thereafter, the additional affidavit refers
    to correspondence exchanged between the DEC and TIET,
    Patiala pursuant to which a Joint Expert Committee was
    constituted comprising of members of the UGC, DEC and AICTE
    to assess the administration and management of distance learning
    programmes offered by TIET, Patiala, which panel had visited
    their premises on 2nd June, 2009 and had recommended the
    recognition of as many as seven programmes for a period of five
    years. However, the Central Government had, in exercise of
    powers under Section 20 of the UGC Act and in terms of a policy
    decision, issued a notification on 29
    th July, 2009 that the B.Tech.
    degrees would not be offered through open distance learning
    programme. In view of this policy decision, the DEC had to
    immediately withdraw the permission to various institutions to
    conduct B.Tech. degree courses through distance education
    mode and no further student was admitted in the current year and
    thereafter. However, the notification states that those who had
    already been admitted would have to pass practicals and written
    examination as may be prescribed so as to obtain the B.Tech.
    degrees through distance education.
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 30 of 35
  26. The submission/contention of the petitioners and TIET, Patiala
    completely overlooks several developments, correspondence and
    policy decisions taken which have been noticed in Orissa Lift
    Irrigation Corporation Limited-I, particularly the notification
    issued by the AICTE on 28th November, 2005 clearly stating that
    no technical institution of the Government/ Government aided/
    private institution, whether affiliated or not to any University, shall
    start new courses or increase the intake for the same without
    approval of the AICTE. Notification issued by the Ministry of
    Human Resource Development, Government of India on 5th April,
    2006 in exercise of powers vested in the Central Government
    under Section 20(1) of the UGC Act and Section 20(1) of the
    AICTE Act had clarified the role of the UGC and AICTE for
    maintaining standards of education and that the deemed to be
    universities are required to maintain minimum standards
    prescribed by the AICTE for various courses within the jurisdiction
    of the said Council. This was followed by a joint public notice
    issued by the AICTE, UGC and DEC on 4th February, 2007 to the
    following effect:
    “It has come to the notice of the University Grants
    Commission (UGC), the All India Council for Technical
    Education (AICTE) and the Distance Education Council
    (DEC), that some Universities, Institutions Deemed to
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 31 of 35
    be Universities and other institutions are offering
    technical education programmes in the ‘distance mode’
    without the approval of the concerned Statutory Council.
    All Universities, Institutions, Deemed to be
    Universities and other institutions are hereby cautioned
    that running such programmes and giving misleading
    advertisements regarding unapproved ‘distance mode
    courses and programmes of study, shall attract severe
    action under the provisions of applicable laws, including
    that of de-recognition and withdrawal of institutional
    approval;
    It is hereby clarified, in the public interest that there
    are a number of courses or programmes of study
    leading to Degree/Diploma or other awards in
    Engineering & Technology, Management, Computer
    Applications, Architecture & Town Planning, Pharmacy,
    Hotel Management & Catering Technology, Applied Arts
    and Crafts, etc. which have not been approved by the
    appropriate Statutory Council for being conducted in the
    ‘distance mode’. It is also reiterated that all courses or
    programmes of study in the ‘distance mode’ require the
    approval of DEC.”
    The public notice had cautioned that the universities/
    institutions/deemed to be universities offering technical education
    programme through distance education mode without approval of
    concerned statutory authorities were doing so in contravention of
    the law and would be treated severely. The last sentence of the
    notification had made it clear that in addition to the concerned
    statutory councils, all courses and the programmes offered for
    study in distance mode would require approval of the DEC. A
    memorandum of understanding was arrived at on 10
    th May, 2007
    among the UGC, AICTE and DEC to work in close co-operation in
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 32 of 35
    pursuit of excellence in technical and general education being
    imparted through distance and mixed mode in the country.
  27. In any case these aspects and contentions were fully considered
    in Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I and it has been
    held that B.Tech. degrees could not have been awarded through
    distance learning mode without the approval of the DEC and
    without any specific approval of the AICTE and UGC and award of
    such degrees without approval of the three were invalid and
    cannot be recognised.
  28. Functioning of the DEC has come in for rather strong criticism in
    several quarters. Till 2006, the DEC had approved about 45
    programmes of 23 universities out of applications for
    approximately 200 programmes. In 2007, the DEC repealed the
    programme approval process and the system of institutional
    recognition was started. As per this decision, all programmes
    approved by respective authorities of the institution were deemed
    to have recognition of the DEC. As a result of this decision, within
    a short span, the number of approved programmes increased to
    over 3000 in 2010. The provisional recognition letter of the DEC
    would uniformly state that before starting such programmes, the
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 33 of 35
    required approvals from other regulatory bodies have to be
    obtained but the said stipulation was not followed in most cases
    and provisional recognition was granted by the DEC to technical
    programmes through distance mode without recognition/approval
    of the AICTE or UGC. This had paved way for commercialisation
    and was a retrograde step which had resulted in deterioration of
    the quality of open learning programmes/degrees. After burning
    its fingers, the DEC switched back to programme recognition. The
    DEC itself was finally wound up in 2013.
  29. In Orissa Lift Irrigation Corporation Limited-I, this Court, took
    note of the order dated 29th December, 2012 issued by the
    Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India
    in view of the recommendations suggested in the Madhava Menon
    Committee report for regulating the standards of education being
    imparted through distance mode to hold that the unilateral
    approvals of the DEC were invalid. It was observed:
    “55. Para 3 of the notification dated 22.11.1991 which
    constituted DEC shows that there was no
    representation for any Member or representative
    of AICTE. The provisions of IGNOU Act show that
    the Study Centres as defined in the IGNOU Act
    are that of IGNOU and not of any other University
    or Institution. The concept of distance education
    under sub-clause (v) of Section 5 is also in relation
    to the academic programmes of IGNOU. It
    undoubtedly has powers under Clauses (vii), (xiii)
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 34 of 35
    and (xxiii) to cooperate with other Universities but
    the IGNOU Act nowhere entitles IGNOU to be the
    Controlling Authority of the entire field of distance
    education of learning across the Country and in
    relation to programmes of other Universities or
    Institutions as well. The Order dated 29.12.2012
    issued by MHRD therefore correctly appreciated
    that DEC created under statute 28 of IGNOU Act
    could not act as a regulator for other Universities.
    In any event of the matter, the policy Guidelines
    issued from time to time made it abundantly clear
    that DEC alone was not entitled to grant
    permission for open distance learning and
    appropriate permissions from the requisite
    authorities were always required and insisted
    upon. Despite such policy statements, DEC went
    on granting permissions without even consulting
    AICTE. Such exercise on part of DEC was
    completely without jurisdiction.
    The said order, the Court noted, had definitively vested the
    UGC and AICTE, among other statutory regulators, with powers to
    regulate technical courses imparted through distance learning
    mode and made it mandatory for institutions intending to impart
    such courses to seek their approval and recognition, observing as
    under:
    “[T]he Central Government in exercise of the powers
    conferred by sub-section 1 of section 20 of the UGC
    1956 and the AICTE Act, 1987 hereby directs: –
    The UGC and AICTE as already empowered under
    their respective Acts, would also act as a regulator for
    Higher Education (excluding Technical Education) and
    Technical Education through open & Distance Learning
    (ODL) mode respectively Universities are empowered
    under their respective Act to offer any programme
    course including in Technical Education in the
    conventional mode. However, if they offer any
    Writ Petition (Civil) No. 1510 of 2018 Page 35 of 35
    programme/course in ODL mode they would require
    recognition from the UGC, AICTE, NCTE and other
    such regulators of the conventional mode of education
    in those areas of study.”
  30. In view of the aforesaid discussion, we do not find any merit in the
    present Writ Petition and the same is dismissed. However, in the
    facts of the case, there would be no order as to costs.
    ……………………………….J.
    (UDAY U. LALIT)
    ………………………………..J.
    (SANJIV KHANNA)
    NEW DELHI;
    AUGUST 29, 2019.