New Delhi, March 19: The IIM fee standoff has snowballed into a wider debate with the Supreme Court recalling an earlier order approving the reduction after the government refused to give an undertaking that it would not interfere in the institutes’ autonomy.
The court will now look at not only the government proposal to slash fee but also the autonomy of the management institutes. Besides, the IIMs will be made a party to the case.
The dramatic twist unfolded in court when the Centre’s counsel, additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohtagi, said “we will fight it out rather than giving an undertaking.”
In the light of the government’s refusal, the bench of Chief Justice V.. Khare and Justices S.B. Sinha and S.H. Kapadia said the issue should be argued afresh and in full.
As the issue of autonomy would now be argued for the first time, the court asked the petitioners — apex court advocate Sandeep Parekh, an IIM alumnus and a student — to make the IIMs a party to the case.
The IIMs reserved comment till they received a copy of the order. Several faculty members said in private that the government’s refusal to give an undertaking lends credence to the institutes’ apprehension that the fee cut was a ploy to weaken them and eventually curb their autonomy.
They added that the heightened fear now could help consolidate the IIMs’ solidarity, which suffered a setback this week when the Lucknow institute confirmed that it had passed a resolution accepting the fee reduction.
However, the sense of vindication was tinged with caution as they pointed out that legal outcomes are not only unpredictable but also binding on all parties. Till today’s order, the institutes had not been made a party either through impleadment or by the petitioners.
The human resource development ministry, the spearhead of the proposal to cut annual fee from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 30,000, had been claiming that any wider review in court will throw up procedural lapses by the IIMs over the years and help its case.
Advocate Parekh said he would amend the main petition to include all the IIMs as parties to the case and file it on April 8. “Procedurally, on April 8, my petition would be heard and notices would be sent to all the six IIMs,” he said.
Rohtagi today told the bench that the Centre could “at best” stand by its oral assurance made in the court on February 27 that the fee-cut would not amount to interference in the IIMs’ “functioning”, making a distinction with autonomy. That day, following the assurance, the apex court had upheld the government decision to reduce the annual fee.
But Parekh had moved an application seeking a directive for a written undertaking from the government that could be incorporated in the court order. The court had earlier observed that access to the IIMs should not be confined to the “elite”.
A parent also moved the court today, contending that fee should be reduced as the proposal had let him think of admitting both his children to the IIMs.