New Delhi: The Delhi University tried every trick in its bag to get the hearing in what has come to be known as the Narendra Modi degree case adjourned in the Delhi high court on Thursday (November 16) as the matter came up for hearing after a gap of nearly seven months. The university, which was in April 2017 asked to file a rejoinder to a reply by the petitioner Neeraj within four weeks, first tried to get another extension by claiming that the no objection certificate for adjournment had been signed by the petitioner’s lawyer. It then pleaded that it could not find time to file a rejoinder. In Neeraj’s plea, the Central Information Commission had in December 2016 directed the university to disclose the results of all the students who had completed the Bachelor of Arts programme in 1978.
The developments left Justice Vibhu Bakhru visibly perturbed and after the court assembled at 10:30 am, he kept insisting that the Delhi University lawyer move ahead with the hearing. The court heard the matter twice after that, first at 12:30 pm and then at 2:30 pm, but each time in the absence of its senior counsel.
Talking to The Wire, RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj said the Delhi University said they had a consensual adjournment and that all the parties have agreed. However, the petitioner’s lawyer said that he had not signed any document saying so, following which the judge decided to go ahead with the hearing.
The Delhi University lawyer on his part said that the case should be adjourned since the senior advocate Tushar Mehta – who was leading the case – was not present. Upon being asked why despite being provided with four weeks to file the rejoinder seven months ago it had not been filed yet, the university’s lawyer began pleading for additional time – leading Justice Bakhru to ask to see the main counsel.
However, when the court heard the matter again at 12:30 pm, the senior counsel had not appeared. Finally, at 2:30, Justice Bakhru said that he was barring DU from filing a rejoinder in the matter and listed the next hearing for February 28.
Bharadwaj, who along with other RTI activists Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri has also filed an intervention appeal in the matter, said it was clear that due to the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections the Delhi University was only keen on putting the issue on the backburner for the time being.
In the meantime, she said, Delhi University is sending out invitations for its 94th annual convocation on November 18 in which President Ram Nath Kovind will be the chief guest, a “live webcast” of which would be available of the university’s website. “So while on the one hand the Delhi University does not want to give out the details of the students who had passed out in 1978, it is now webcasting the convocation live. Then what happens to the issue of privacy and fiduciary capacity which the Delhi University had been flagging to object to release of information about students in 1978 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi also ostensibly graduated.”
In fact, she said, this issue of the university handing out students’ information at convocations was also referred to by the central information commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu in his December 21, 2016 on Neeraj’s petition.