Post the open house session conducted by the Management, a lot of Parents got into a fact-finding mission and the following came out:
With that prefatory note, the relevant factual background – as we understand it – is as follows:
1. The land on which Mirambika currently stands is allotted to the Sri Aurobindo Education Society. There are two separate lease deeds for two distinct land parcels – one is a perpetual lease deed for the purpose of a “college building”, and the other is a temporary lease deed for the purpose of a “playground”. We are informed that the allotment was finally confirmed (and lease deeds were executed) after the conclusion of a litigation that travelled all the way to the Supreme Court. The case papers have not been made available to us, but from our discussions with management, it appears as though that litigation may have had more to do with non-use of the land than misuse (the land was possibly in possession of the Society as early as the late 1960s, because even the lease deeds relate back to this time period).
2. Soon after the litigation was concluded, the allotment was finalized by executing the lease deeds, and the land was put to use. It was a condition of the lease deed that the land would be used for a “college building”. Pranjal Bhaiya was kind enough to show us the lease deed condition during our discussions with him. In the mid-1980s, a teacher training institute and the present school were set up on the land. The setting up of a teacher training institute and a school was guided by the concept of integral education as envisioned by The Mother. Mirambika has been a pioneering force in a model of more integrated education (in all senses of the word). This was also consistent with the aims and objectives of the parent Society.
3. Legally, the teacher training institute could well be regarded as a college. The Mirambika website refers to it as the Mirambika Teacher Education Institute. When it was started, i.e. in the 1980s, the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) was only an advisory board in the Government. Thus, teacher training institutes were not regulated in the manner in which they came to be after the enactment of the NCTE Act in 1993. It was only in 1995 that NCTE was reconstituted as a statutory body, and started exercising powers of recognition etc. The Mirambika Teacher Education Institute runs a teacher training course for a duration of three years, and offers a certificate at the end of the course. The institute appears to have obtained NCTE recognition for an elementary education course in the year 2000. Thus, it may well be possible to contend that there is a teacher training institute on the site, which has some form of recognition from NCTE. Moreover, the blending of theoretical and practical is a unique feature of this course – and that is made possible, as the website itself suggests, because Mirambika Free Progress school is situated on the same campus. There is no apparent reason why the term “college” should be restrictively interpreted to mean a degree college – particularly, when the statutory regulator (NCTE) recognizes this elementary education course (and has presumably given its approval after full disclosures by the management). The Mirambika Free Progress school applied for recognition, and received recognition from the Directorate of Education in 1988.
4. Although the land was meant for a college building, the college that was set up was initially not recognized by any government body (and, arguably, did not need such recognition until 1995), while the school became a recognized school. After the NCTE began to grant recognition, it appears that the elementary teacher education course run by the Mirambika Teacher Education Institute did receive some form of approval in the year 2000, and this approval is presumably continuing as of today.
5. Today, i.e. in 2015, it is unclear what has changed, and what precisely led management to review this entire situation. There appears to be no material change in circumstances. The management has referred to an RTI query, but even that appears to be in relation to Mothers International School (and not Mirambika). Since the allotment of the land, there has always been a training college and a school on the site – and that continues today. Since 1995, the management has thought it fit to continue this training college without any need for NCTE recognition – and the college continues to award certificates in the same manner even today. It appears that the management is intending to overhaul this entire situation under some anticipated apprehended threat.
6. The management suggests that since the land is allotted for a college building, it is important to have a regular college on the campus, which awards degrees. It is unclear why the management no longer considers the training college to be sufficient compliance with the lease deed condition. In any event, the management’s efforts to regularize the college are not geared towards applying for recognition for a B.Ed program. The NCTE has published new regulations specifying the norms for recognition of B.Ed program, in the year 2014. Pursuant to these 2014 Regulations, a public notice has been issued in February 2015 inviting applications from institutions wishing to offer B.Ed degree. It does not appear that the management is attempting to set up a college which awards B.Ed degree, but rather, a women’s engineering college (for which it has applied to AICTE for approval).
7. The management has not explained how a school and college would co-exist on the same campus. Even if this were legally permissible, it raises questions of appropriate segmentation of different levels of learning.
8. On the issue of whether at all there is a legal threat on account of a breach of the lease deed condition, if at all governmental authorities do raise this as an issue, there are numerous factors that would weigh in favour of the school: (a) The present usage has continued undisrupted for over 30 years; (b) This usage has not been covert or hidden, but fully transparent – and with full recognition from governmental authorities such as the Directorate of Education; (c) There exists a Teacher Education Institute on site, which enjoys recognition / approval from NCTE; (d) The fact that a school also exists on the same campus is not a deviation from the purpose for which the land was allotted – rather, it is necessary for the unique teacher education that the Teacher Education Institute professes to offer, and for which it has received both NCTE recognition and been cited as one of the innovators in teacher education by a National Focus Group on Teacher Education; (e) Even the DDA Master Plan 2021 highlights the need for such integral education, and therefore DDA can hardly adopt a stand that undermines such education being offered at Mirambika; (f) The usage was compliant with the lease deed condition because what was set up was a college along with a school; (g) Assuming the present usage is non-compliant, the lease deed itself allows for change of land use by payment of enhanced premium, and at worst, this would be a case where the present usage can be regularized – if necessary, on payment of misuse charges (though even that may not be called for); (g) Most significantly, there appears to be favourable legal precedent to support the proposition that land allotted for a college can actually be used for a school. In the case of Kamal Educational & Welfare Society (4 2004 DLT 115), certain Societies had set up higher education institutes on land allotted for a school (Mirambika is the converse case, where land allotted for a college is being used for a school). The Delhi High Court quashed the Delhi Government’s cancellation of sponsorship based on which DDA had allotted land to the Petitioner Societies. It relied on the fact that the Societies had the necessary recognition from various authorities, and on the fact that there were appropriate disclosures that were made at the time of seeking these approvals. In other words, the Societies informed the authorities that it was proposing to set up higher education institutes on land allotted for a school site. They did not act surreptitiously, and this appears to have weighed with the Court. The Delhi High Court also relied on DDA’s own policy, as set out in a Circular of 1996, whereby it allowed lessee’s to seek permission to sublet for a similar purpose. School and college were regarded as part of the same genus, and would qualify as a similar purpose. Thus, land allotted for the purpose of a school could always be sublet for purpose of running a college, subject to conditions set out in the circular. The converse would also hold true. The Court went as far as to hold that this was condonable, and was at most a procedural issue, and not a violation of a substantive obligation. It appears very arguable, based on this precedent, that Mirambika’s case is supported by both DDA’s own policy and the judgment of the Delhi High Court. Necessary enquiries would need to be made to ascertain whether this policy of the DDA subsists even today, and also whether there were any appeals from this judgment of the Single Judge of the Delhi High Court.
9. It appears to us, based on the above, that the fear that the land may be required to be surrendered on account of a breach of the lease deed condition is needlessly pessimistic. If the DDA were to contemplate any such action, it would require prior notice. The matter could then be litigated and an appropriate status quo order could be sought. Ultimately, only a court of law (or arbitrator having jurisdiction over the matter, as the case may be) can weigh the various facts and circumstances, and adjudicate on whether there has been a breach and possible consequences. Legalities apart, the management has always acted bona fide in the interest of the institution. That itself, coupled with the status quo that has continued for 30 years (with the knowledge of, and recognition / approval from governmental authorities such as DoE and NCTE), will be a factor that ought to weigh with any court of law.
10. Therefore, where a simple request for a clarificatory change of land use might suffice, disrupting the entire status quo under apprehension of some imaginary threat might indeed undercut Mirambika’s legal position. In any event, the co-existence of the teacher education institute and the school can hardly be viewed as a violation. This very co-existence is central to the unique teacher education that Mirambika offers. Would it not, therefore, be better to avoid recourse and resort to contrived actions that purport to correct a perceived technical illegality, and instead stand up for what actually exists as entirely legal.
11. Given the aims and objectives of the Society, the emphasis on integrated education, the unique Mirambika experiment, and the decades of selfless service that many on the Society have given to Mirambika, it appears unlikely that the management is impelled by any desire to establish an engineering college, quite independent of legal constraints. Even if the management were guided by such a purpose, the parents’ only position could be that there must be reasonable notice and a reasonable alternative campus/structure. Subject to those two conditions, it would not be for us to stall the management’s plans and require them to continue Mirambika school as it exists, in perpetuity.