The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the Centre and the UGC on a petition by the mothers of late Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi, seeking its intervention to ensure that educational institutions put in place anti-discrimination measures and adhere to them strictly.
A bench of Justices N V Ramana and Ajay Rastogi issued the notices after Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the petitioners, contended that there was laxity in implementing equity guidelines.
The petition alleged that “caste-based discrimination” was “rampant… in higher educational institutions” and that this “reflects flagrant non-compliance with the existing norms and regulations in place for the same”.
“These incidents… are violative of the fundamental rights to equality, right against discrimination, equal opportunity, abolition of untouchability, and right to life guaranteed under Article 14,15,16,17 and 21 of the Constitution,” it added.
The plea urged the court to direct the Centre and UGC to strictly ensure enforcement of and compliance with the UGC, (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2012.
It also wanted all universities and higher education institutes to establish Equal Opportunity Cells, on the lines of existing anti-discrimination internal complaints mechanisms, and to include members from the SC,ST communities and independent representatives from NGOs or social activists to ensure objectivity and impartiality in the process.
The petition said that though the 2012 regulations required all Colleges/Universities to establish an Equal Opportunity Cell to oversee the promotion of equality and appoint an Anti-Discrimination Officer to investigate complaints of discrimination in breach of equity, “guidelines have not proven to be effective or sufficient”.
The plea wants institutions to upload on their websites all measures for elimination of caste-based discrimination and procedure and punishments for breaching them and ensure a wider outreach through publicity and participation of governmental and non-governmental actors.
The petitioners also urged the court to direct universities to take strong action against victimisation of students/staff who file complaints of caste-based discrimination and to take steps in the nature of interim relief that restrain the institution from creating a hostile environment against them.
The plea also prayed the National Assessment & Accreditation Council should cater to diversity and affirmative action policy as a separate criterion and thus incentivise universities to develop a congenial atmosphere that promotes diversity and also include “measures to prevent caste-based discrimination” as compulsory criteria required to be fulfilled for accreditation.