[BBC Documentary on PM Modi] Delhi High Court sets aside DU’s order debarring NSUI Secy Lokesh Chugh

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Court was hearing a plea filed by Ph.D. research scholar and National Students Union of India (NSUI) Secretary, Lokesh Chugh who had been debarred for 1 year for his alleged involvement in the screening of the banned BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Faculty of Arts on January 27.

The Delhi High Court on Thursday set aside Delhi University’s order debarring Ph.D. research scholar and National Students Union of India (NSUI) Secretary, Lokesh Chugh for his alleged involvement in the screening of the banned BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi“India: the Modi Question” at the Faculty of Arts on January 27. 

The bench of Justice Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav opined that action against Lokesh Chugh was taken in violation of the principle of natural justice, and that the reasons were necessary to be assigned by the administrative authority in the order.

"The court is unable to sustain the impugned order dated March 10, 2023. The impugned order is set aside. The admission of the petitioner is restored. Necessary consequences will follow," the court ordered.

The single-judge bench clarified that the university is free to take legal action against the petitioner since the debarment order was being overturned due to a violation of the principle of natural justice.

Chugh had filed the present plea through Advocate Naman Joshi stating that on January 27, there was a protest organized by a few students at the faculty of arts (main campus), University of Delhi. During this protest, a banned BBC documentary–India: the Modi Question–was allegedly screened for public viewing.

The plea stated that Chugh is a Ph.D. research scholar at the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Science, University of Delhi. It also stated that at the relevant time, Chugh was not present at the protest site, nor did he participate in the screening in any manner.

Chugh, in his plea, stated that he was giving a live interview at the time when the documentary was being screened, and thereafter, the police detained a few students for a screening of the documentary and charged them with disturbing the peace in the area. “Notably, the petitioner (Chugh) was neither detained nor charged with any form of incitement or violence or disturbance of the peace by the police,” the plea said.

The plea added that to the utter shock and dismay of Chugh, he was served a show cause notice by the proctor on February 16, asking him to reply within three days about his alleged involvement in the screening and subsequent protest. He submitted his reply on February 20.

On March 3, Chugh submitted his Ph.D. thesis and on March 10, the Registrar issued a memorandum imposing a penalty of debarment from taking any university/college/departmental exam for one year. Chugh, in his plea, said that neither disciplinary authority/committee nor the impugned memorandum had given any finding as to what indiscipline is attributed to him.

“The Impugned Memorandum proceeds on the assumption that the Disciplinary Authority formed vide Notification No. RO/2023/R- 4355 dated 28.01.2023 to specifically look into the incident which took place on 27.01.2023. However, this Notification dated 28.01.2023 is not available in the public domain. Moreover, Petitioner was neither informed about the formation of any such Committee by the Disciplinary Authority nor called to appear before such Committee to put forth his submissions,” the plea read.

“Impugned Memorandum is silent as to how the Petitioner was involved in an incident dated 27.01.2023. The Impugned Memorandum only makes a passing reference to Petitioner’s alleged involvement in the screening of BBC Documentary”, the plea added.

The plea further alleged that the memorandum proceeded on a biased premise, as it accused Chugh of indiscipline on the basis of his alleged participation in the screening, whereas, others had only been asked to submit a written apology.

Furthermore, the plea asserted that Chugh is a sincere and meritorious student of DU, and has an exemplary academic record. Therefore the Impugned Memorandum is likely to rob the Petitioner of various academic and professional opportunities. “Surely, alleged screening of the BBC Documentary cannot be a reason to deny the Petitioner a chance at academic excellence”, it added.

The plea prayed for setting aside the March 10 memorandum, quashing of the February 16 show-cause notice, and expunging of the remarks made in the disciplinary proceedings against Chugh, in view of his exemplary academic record.

Case Title: Lokesh Chugh v. University of Delhi & Ors.