Supreme Court orders NLSIU to promote student accused of alleged plagiarism

National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore blocked the promotion of a semester 6 student (Year 3), Hruday P. B. to semester 7 (Year 4) for getting an ‘F’ grade in the subject of Child Rights Law in March 2020 owing to being awarded zero marks in the ‘project’ component of the subject due to an alleged plagiarism at the end of the student. A writ petition was filed with the Karnataka High Court, wherein a single-judge bench of Justice Krishna S. Dixit, upheld the petition while directing NLSIU to re-assess and award the requisite marks to the petitioner’s project component being bought into question. The judgement directed NLSIU to promote the student by way of carry forward/ carryover while disregarding the attendance shortage, if any. The High Court observed that the grounds for plagiarism was unsubstantiated since no preliminary inquiry was conducted into the matter by NLSIU; additionally, the court observed that the few cryptic e-mails exchanged between the subject teacher and Examination Department where the former accuses the student of plagiarism is unlawful since the said student was kept in the dark.

Justice Krishna S. Dixit held that the non-conductance of a preliminary inquiry into the accusations of the subject teacher is not justified in the eyes of the law. It is worth noting that NLSIU’s regulations outline a process to be followed by the Disciplinary Matters Advisory Review & Investigation Committee (DARIC) to inquire into any allegations of plagiarism against a student (in the form of non- citation of sources or copying from another student’s project or form his/her own earlier project without acknowledgement of the same), which involves communications to the chairperson of the University Grants Commission, the Vice-Chancellor of NLSIU and the respective subject teacher in the said committee under Regulation III, Clause 4 of the B.A. LL. B (Hons.) Academic and Examinations Regulations, 2009. The regulation mandates the subject teacher to provide a written intimation to the wrongful student about the plagiarism charges against the latter; however, the same was not followed herein per the judge. The judge pointed out that NLSIU had not provided an opportunity to the student to present his case; consequently, the latter upheld the plagiarism claim of the subject teacher via e-mails without hearing the student; this was held as unlawful by the judge.

In the present case, NLSIU had filed a Special Leave Petition against the aforementioned order of the Karnataka High Court. The petitioner (NLSIU) was represented by Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi while the respondent (the student Hruday P. B. with his father who is a sitting judge at the Karanataka High Court, Justice P. B. Bajanthri) was represented by Senior Advocate P. S. Patwalia in front of a two-judge divisional bench of Justice S. K. Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, wherein the bench upheld the order of the Karnataka High Court to promote the student to Semester 7. The bench posited that judicial intervention in academic matters of educational institutions is necessary to secure the interests of students especially when the petitioner has failed to adhere to their own regulations. The bench added that the case should be taken as an encouragement by students to seek judicial redressal upon acting contrary to the regulations of their educational institution.

The counsel for the respondent argued that the denial of a fair and adequate opportunity of hearing the student is unlawful.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court of India orders for the promotion of the respondent to the next academic year while upholding the judgement of the Karnataka High Court.

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