New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Friday stayed the order of St Stephen’s College Principal Valson Thampu suspending the student editor of its banned e-zine for “violating” discipline, asking whether anyone can be suspended for speaking to the media.
The court also stayed the findings of a one-man inquiry committee, appointed by Thampu, which had on April 9 held third-year student, Devansh Mehta, guilty of violating disciplinary norms of the college.
It directed the college not to give an award, the list of which included Mehta but dropped later due to the controversy, to anyone till the next date of hearing.
“Notice to all respondents (Delhi University, St Stephen’s College, Valsan Thampu, Sanjay Rao Ayde). Meantime, impugned order dated April 15, suspending petitioner from the college as well as findings in the April 9 report of the inquiry committee is stayed,” Justice Vibhu Bakhru said.
Mehta, a Philosophy student and the editor and co-founder of ‘St Stephen’s Weekly’ e-zine that was banned by the college last month, was suspended from college till April 23 following the report of the inquiry committee of Prof Sanjay Rao Ayde.
During the brief hearing, the court also rapped the Delhi University for claiming that the petitioner was guilty to some extent as he had not denied the charges against him.
“This does not inspire any confidence,” the court said and asked, “anyone who speaks to the media, will you suspend him?” “You should play an impartial role,” the court told the University.
The court also directed that the award, Rai Saheb Banarsi Das Memorial Prize, for which Mehta was earlier selected by the college faculty but later dropped from the list in the wake of the controversy, be not given to anyone till the next date of hearing on May 21.
“It is necessary to protect the petitioner’s interest,” the court said, adding “you can’t strip someone of an award given to them”.
Mehta was to have received the prize from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who will be the chief guest at the college’s graduation ceremony on Saturday.
The third-year Philosophy student and editor of the college’s banned e-zine – St Stephen’s Weekly – had on Thursday moved the court seeking a stay on the action against him taken by the college on disciplinary grounds.
He sought “quashing of the order banning/suspending publication of the St Stephen’s Weekly, stay on the suspension order and restraining the principal from taking any further action against him”.
Mehta also sought that he be awarded the memorial prize, as the college had replaced his name in the list due to the controversy. In its order, the court also noted that Mehta’s application for admission has been accepted by USA’s Columbia University’s graduate school of Journalism, where he is going to study investigative journalism.
Mehta’s lawyer submitted before the court that the order of suspension as well as findings of the one-man panel would irreversibly prejudice and jeopardise his chances of admission in the American university.
The student, in his plea, has disputed the charges of breach of trust and college discipline levelled against him, saying they cannot be a cause for his suspension.
He has also contended that publishing a weekly is part of freedom of speech guaranteed under the Constitution. Mehta had along with three other students started an
e-zine, ‘St Stephen’s Weekly’, which went live on March 7 and registered over 2,000 hits on an interview of Thampu, following which the principal ordered a ban on the publication for not taking his clearance on the content.
Thampu’s move had invited criticism from the reputed college’s alumni, including former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) SY Quraishi and former Delhi Lokayukta, Justice (retd) Manmohan Sarin, who had requested the principal to reconsider the decision, terming it as ‘extreme’ and ‘disproportionate’.
Thampu had appointed a one-man disciplinary committee to look into the matter which, in its report submitted last week, had defended the principal’s action after finding the students guilty of violating the college’s disciplinary norms.