Kerala High Court Rebukes State Government for Misusing Power in Support of SFI Against College Principal

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The court observed “The failure in conducting an independent inquiry will show that disciplinary authority had acted in a partisan manner based on extraneous considerations”

The High Court of Kerala has strongly criticised the CPM-led state government for "misusing power" to support the party's student wing, the Students Federation of India (SFI), in an attempt to block a college principal from obtaining her pensionary benefits.

A bench comprising Justice A Muhamed Mustaque and Justice Shoba Annamma Eapen quashed two departmental inquiries against Dr. Rema M, the former principal in charge of Kasaragod Government College. Dr. Rema, who retired on March 31, 2024, had openly criticised the SFI for its alleged illegal activities on the campus. The court ruled that the disciplinary action taken against Dr. Rema was unjust and based on extraneous considerations.

Dr. Rema faced allegations of failing to resolve a contaminated water issue and misbehaving with students. Notably, on February 24 of the preceding year, she gave an interview to an online news channel, discussing student misconduct and drug use. Thereafter, she received a show-cause notice accusing her of tarnishing the institution's image. She responded to the notice, clarifying her statements targeted specific students and were a reaction to SFI's false propaganda.

The court addressed the charges against Dr. Rema, emphasising that while she did speak against the SFI unit and its members, she also highlighted illegal activities involving former students and incidents of misbehaviour and assault by girl students.

“If she had raised unsubstantiated allegations against members of SFI unit, the real aggrieved parties are the members of SFI unit and not the Government,” the court noted, criticising the government for assuming these allegations were unsubstantiated without conducting an independent inquiry or determining the issue at a litigatory forum. “The failure in conducting an independent inquiry will show that disciplinary authority had acted in a partisan manner based on extraneous considerations,” the court further said.

Further, the court found no violation of conduct rules in Dr. Rema giving a press interview and emphasised that she cannot be punished for exercising her right to free speech. “The petitioner is a free citizen of this country. She cannot surrender her constitutional right of free speech and expression. The restriction is only in the manner as prescribed under law. Her constitutional right cannot be fettered beyond the restriction imposed by law,” the court said.

The court acknowledged her right to defend her actions and noted that her comments about student indiscipline and immorality, whether true or not, do not constitute misconduct under the Government Servants’ Conduct Rules.

The court also reflected on societal changes, noting that “Everyone has freedom to live their own way of life and thinking, as long as it does not encroach upon or undermine discipline required for learning; in such cases, no legal action is possible.”

The court highlighted the lack of an independent inquiry into the harassment Dr. Rema faced from SFI members, despite her criminal complaint filed on February 24, 2023. It noted that the investigation led by Dr. Sunil John was biased, focusing on indicting Dr. Rema rather than addressing the misconduct by SFI members.

The court emphasised that the disciplinary action appeared to be influenced by the ruling party's student wing, with the government acting in a partisan manner. The court also pointed out that Dr. Rema's explanations and counter-allegations were not considered, demonstrating a lack of impartiality.

Consequently, the court struck down the charges, stating that “The motive behind issuing a fresh charge memo is clearly to harass the petitioner on the eve of her retirement. We have to use our power in extraordinary jurisdiction like this. Otherwise, it would betray the confidence on our justice dispensation system.”


Cause Title:  Dr Rema M v The Director of Collegiate Education [OP(KAT) NO. 109 OF 2024 ]