Approach of Sympathy serves the interests of justice, Depression must be considered as a medically serious illness in light of the COVID-19 pandemic

In the case of Krishabh Kapoor v. Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology (2021) C.A.No. 558/ 2021, Justice N. V. Anjaria  heard the petitioner, represented by Advocate Ronith Joy. The petitioner was a student of engineering at the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, wherein a communication between the Academic Performance Review Committee and the Dean (Academics) on October 5, 2020, regarding the cancellation of the registration and admission of the petitioner was subsequently, communicated to the petitioner via an order on March 12, 2021.

The petitioner secured admission at the institution after not only clearing his 12th standard examination with 85% marks but also getting an All India Rank in the JEE Examination. The petitioner argued that the period of the nationwide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a deterioration in his mental health, wherein the period of the alleged depression started in January 2020 while peaking in May 2020, such that he was allegedly having suicidal thoughts; consequently, the petitioner was unable to appear for the examination conducted via  the online modality by the institution. It is worth noting that the petitioner did not inform his parents about his episodes of depression. On September 18, 2020, the Academic Review Committee decided to expel the petitioner owing to his failure to earn the requisite 25 credits at the end of his second semester at the institution. On November 4, 2020, the committee rejected the repeated requests from the petitioner asking the former to reconsider their decision.

The parents of the petitioner became aware of the petitioner’s condition on September 29, 2020; additionally, it was the same day they realized that the petitioner has been removed from the institution. The parents wrote multiple letters to the authorities at the institutions to show mercy; however, their requests were rejected. The last request was sent on December 25, 2020, along with a certificate from a medical practitioner (dated December 21, 2020) to reconsider their decision regarding the admission of the petitioner by stating that the petitioner’s poor mental health made him unfit to score the minimum qualifying marks required for passing his freshman year at the institution. It is worth noting that the certificate from the medical practitioner upheld the underlying medical condition suffered by the petitioner.

The Gujarat High Court passed an order on April 23, 2021, wherein it allowed the petitioner to appear for supplementary examinations for the first and second semester in May 2021; consequently, the petitioner secured the minimum marks required to gain credits for the aforementioned semesters.

The respondent argued that the regulations at the institution ought to uniformly apply to all students, wherein no special exception is maintained for any student, such that the regulation of requiring each student to earn 25 credits at the end of each semester is mandated uniformly for each student; additionally, the respondent submitted that the petitioner chose to not appear for the supplementary examinations held in February 2020 and August 2020. Although the said regulations include exceptions on medical grounds, the same requires the student to fill an application before the last day of the “to be missed” examination, wherein the respondent held that neither such an application was made before the Head of Department of the petitioner’s programme nor his condition was revealed to the hostel authorities between January 2020 and March 2020. Although the introverted nature of the petitioner caused him to withdraw from seeking any help while withdrawing completely from academic activities, the diagnosis by a medical practitioner occurred in December 2021, wherein the respondent argued that the gap between the withdrawal and the diagnosis is questionable.

The court argued that the depressive cycle of the petitioner occurred in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, a period of extreme despondence, wherein the effect of the depression on the tender mind of the petitioner was exasperated by the insensitive actions of the respondent per the court. The court held that the depression of the petitioner must be considered by the institution as a medical ground and the non-filling of the application can be attributed to the serious nature of the withdrawal from any help experienced by the petitioner. The court added that the passing of the supplementary examinations in May 2020 qualifies the petitioner to continue his education at the institution owing to the completion of 25 credits by the petitioner in the background of the tenets of justness, fairness and equality.

The court quashed the order of the Academic Performance Review Committee of cancelling the registration and admission of the petitioner even though the petitioner has successfully acquired 25 credits to pass the preceding semesters by appearing for the supplementary examinations in May 2020, wherein Justice N. V. Anjaria ordered the institution to permit the continuance of the education of the petitioner at the institution.

Justice N. V. Anjaria held that although the approach of sympathy is not a rule of law, it serves the grander interests of justice in situations where the facts and  circumstances justifiably demand sympathy. The judge asked the respondent to consider Depression as a medically serious illness in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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