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Student loses out, varsity scot-free after result rigmarole

New Delhi, Oct. 2: Rabindra Nath Ghosal appeared for his MA examinations in Islamic History and Culture from Calcutta University in November 1984. The results were declared in June next year, but his was withheld. He went on with life and enrolled for the law course.

In 1990, he awoke to the injustice and wrote to the university, the vice-chancellor and the controller of examinations, requesting that his result be declared. He also filed a writ in Calcutta High Court. His result was announced in July 1991. He had failed.

Eleven years later, Ghosal failed again. The Supreme Court has ruled that Calcutta University need not pay compensation as no fundamental right of the student-appellant was violated.

“Even though the respondents (University of Calcutta) were negligent in not declaring the result, this was not a fit case where compensation could or should have been awarded,” said a three-judge bench of Justice G.B. Pattanaik, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Justice S.N. Variava, upholding the order of Calcutta High Court while dismissing Ghosal’s petition.

Writing the judgment, Justice Variava said: “It would not be correct to assume that every minor infraction of public duty by every public officer would commend the court to grant compensation in a petition by applying the principle of public law proceeding.”

The court made it clear that for compensation to be granted it had to be proved that some fundamental right of the appellant had been violated by a wilful act of any public authority. “Before exemplary damages can be awarded, it must be shown that some fundamental right under Article 21 has been infringed upon by arbitrary or capricious action on the part of the public functionaries and that the sufferer was a helpless victim of that act,” the judges said.

“The court in exercise of extraordinary powers under Articles 226 and 32 of the Constitution would not award damages against public authorities merely because they have made some order which turns out to be ultra vires, or there has been some inaction in the performance of the duties unless there is malice or conscious abuse,” they added.

The bench pointed out that Ghosal did nothing for several years to get his result published and that the university did not prevent him from taking up further studies. “The (Calcutta) high court is right when it holds that in this case, it has not been shown what problem the appellant faced and to what extent he has suffered prejudice… This is not a case where because of non-disclosure of the results, the appellant was prevented from undertaking future studies,” the court said.

A single-judge bench of Calcutta High Court had granted Ghosal compensation and damages of Rs 60,000 both from the university and the vice-chancellor. But a division bench overturned the verdict.

“In our view, the division bench was right in concluding that even though the respondents (Calcutta University) were negligent in not declaring the result, this was not a fit case where compensation could or should have been awarded. We are also in agreement with the division bench that a case for compensation had not even been pleaded or proved,” the judges ruled.

“The courts having the obligation to satisfy the social aspiration of the citizens have to apply the tool and grant compensation as damages in public law proceedings. Consequently, when the court moulds the relief in proceedings seeking enforcement or protection of fundamental rights and grants compensation, it does so under the public law by way of penalising the wrongdoer and fixing the liability for the public wrong on the state which has failed in its public duty to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens,” the apex court said.

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