Punjab: College expels student for ‘using’ Apple watch during exam; HC quashes orders

Sofi Ahsan
Chandigarh student wears Apple watch to exam, Student wears apple watch to exam, Punjab High Court, Punjab and Haryana High Court, India news, Indian Express

It was alleged that the student had downloaded a textbook in his Apple watch. (Archive)

MORE THAN five months after a private college in Punjab struck off a BTech student from its rolls for use of a smartwatch, allegedly containing a textbook, in an examination held in May 2019, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has quashed the order for violation of principles of natural justice.

Observing that mere possession of a smart watch (an Apple watch in this case) would not justify punishment unless there is an evidence to show that same was being misused, Justice Sudhir Mittal, in his order said, “No such evidence is available on the record. Apple watches are being used very commonly now a days especially by young people and a student can not be punished for possession of such a device unless it has been positively established that the same was being used as an aid for using unfair means”.

While delivering the verdict, the court also quashed the orders of IK Gujral Punjab Technical University, Jalandhar, which had barred the student from appearing in examination for a period of two semesters.

The student of DAV Institute of Engineering and Technology was appearing in the examination for Physics paper of his second semester at a university centre when the supervisor found him using unfair means. The supervisor reported: “He has smart watch on his hand, he was continuously cheating, the whole book was captured by that smart watch”. The statement was endorsed by the examination centre superintendent.

“I am guilty of my actions. I admit my mistake,” the student is said to have stated in his recorded statement.

In July 2019, the Unfair Means Committee of the university disqualified the student from appearing in any examination of the university for a period of two semesters. In November 2019, the order was upheld in appeal by the competent authority. In September 2019, his name was struck off the rolls by the college. The student moved the high court in December 2019 challenging the three orders. The HC has now quashed all the orders.

The student before court, through his counsel, said that the supervisor suspected him of using unfair means but found nothing incriminating on search including after removal of his watch to see if something was concealed under the strap. The supervisor told the student that possession of an Apple watch in itself was an offence and took away the answersheet, the court was told, adding the same resulted into an argument. The material relied upon in chargesheet was not given to him and adequate opportunity of hearing was also not provided, it was argued. The HC was also told that the watch was not examined by the Unfair Means Committee and the appellate authority. It was also contended that Apple watch can communicate only if it is connected with a mobile phone in the surroundings but no phone was recovered.

The University in its reply said the student admitted the mistake in his statement and the material was provided in response to an RTI application in October 2019. The college did not file any reply in the case. The student, in court, argued that no show cause notice was issued to him before removing his name from the rolls. Regarding the admission of his mistake, the student said he had only apologized for arguing with the supervisor and not admitted anything.

Observing that the material - the Apple watch, complaint copy, statement of complainant and the CCTV footage - was not shown to him on the ground that he has admitted to his guilt, Justice Mittal in the judgment said it is not permissible for the authorities to ignore the principles of natural justice incorporated in their own ordinance regarding unfair means.

The HC also said the allegation against the student was that he had downloaded an entire textbook in his watch but the order passed by the committee does not record any finding in this regard.

“In fact, the petitioner should have been confronted with the evidence. The Unfair Means Committee presumed the presence of the text book in the watch of the petitioner on the basis of the complaint of the supervisor alone. It should have at least satisfied itself regarding this crucial fact before proceeding to pass any order against the petitioner,” the verdict reads.

Observing that the order passed by the college is patently without jurisdiction as the regulations provide for disqualification for a period of not less than two semesters and not removal from the rolls, and also violative of the principles of natural justice, the HC said the student has been unable to attend college since September 2019 and a period of five months has elapsed resulting in loss of one semester.

The court further said that assuming that he is found guilty after taking of a fresh decision in compliance of principles of nature justice, punishment of disqualification for one semester is adequate. “This is also an assumption as the charge can never be proved now as the Apple watch has since been returned to the petitioner. Thus, I do not deem it appropriate to direct a fresh decision to be taken after complying with the principles of natural justice,” the order reads.