View from the courtroom: Legal battle for control of Edwardes College still on

Updated June 17, 2019


20 faculty members have filed a writ petition requesting the court to declare the college an autonomous institution. — APP/File
20 faculty members have filed a writ petition requesting the court to declare the college an autonomous institution. — APP/File

The Edwardes College, Peshawar, established in 1900, has turned into a centre of controversy between different stakeholders, including the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Diocese of Peshawar and permanent faculty members. The college has become a focus of attention due to an ongoing legal battle between these stakeholders over its administrative control.

The Diocese’s Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter has moved the Peshawar High Court claiming that he is the chairman of the college’s Board of Governors (BoG) and it is a private entity.

He has requested the court to restrain the respondents, including the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor, from interfering in the administration and other affairs of the college. He stated that the college had its own financial resources, which were created through donations and fee, etc.

Contrary to his claim, around 20 faculty members have also filed a writ petition requesting the court to declare the college an autonomous institution run by the BoG notified in 1974 and chaired by the KP governor.

A senior teacher Prof Gulzar Ahmad Jalal, who is also member of the BoG, has also filed an application requesting the court to include him as respondent in the writ petition filed by Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter.

This applicant has also challenged the stance of the Bishop, stating that all privately-managed schools and colleges had been taken over by the government in 1972 under Regulation No 118 called as “The Privately Managed Schools and Colleges (Taking Over) Regulation 1972.”

He stated that subsequently a notification was issued in 1974 by the education department, NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), through which a BoG was created for the functioning of the college.

He contended that the college affairs were then run by the BoG, chaired by the governor, and Edwardes College Services Rules 1991 were framed and approved by the Board for the effective management and terms and conditions of the employees.

The Diocese Bishop has been relying on a judgment of the high court delivered on March 22, 2016, by a division bench headed by Justice Nisar Hussain Khan.

The judgment was delivered in a writ petition filed by an academician Malak Naz, who had challenged the appointment of present college’s Principal retired Brig Nayyar Firdows by the BoG through a notification on Dec 5, 2014.

The high court had dismissed the plea of Malik Naz and had ruled that Edwardes College was a private institution.

The petitioner had challenged the said appointment on multiple grounds: that it was pre-determined to appoint a Christian as principal of the college; that his appointment was outcome of political maneuvering and pressure; and that this appointment had not been made in accordance with law.

The bench had mentioned that in historical context the Edwardes College, Peshawar, initially was a missionary school named Edwardes High School founded by Church Missionary Society in 1853, which was later upgraded to the status of college in 1900 and since then it was functioning as a private institution.

“In 1971 when all the private institutions were nationalised it was also proposed for nationalisation, but was resisted, so its independent status as private institution was acknowledged and maintained,’ the court ruled.

“However, the bench observed that in Jan 1974 the governor, then NWFP now KP, established BoG for the college and all the administrative powers for this college were vested in the Board. The governor of the province was to be the chairman of the Board and minister for education and bishop of Peshawar as vice-chairmen.

“It is also a mystery that in absence of any statutory power, under what authority of law, then Governor of KP issued notification for constitution of the Board of Governors,” the bench ruled. It was ruled that Edwardes College was a private educational institution funded by its own sources.

The high court has now clubbed all the related petitions and will hear these on June 20. Initially, on May 13 a bench of the high court took up for hearing the petition filed by the Bishop and had sought comments from the respondents, including the KP governor, chief secretary, secretaries of higher education, finance and establishment departments.

The court had also directed the respondents not to take any adverse action against the affairs of the college.

On June 12, a bench took up for preliminary hearing the writ petition filed by the faculty members and sought comments from the government, the Diocese’s Bishop and the principal and also directed the principal not take any adverse action against the petitioners.

An additional advocate general Waqar Ahmad Khan, representing the government, contended that in the previous writ petition decided in 2016 the court was not properly assisted and several important facts were concealed from the court.

While the KP government specially the governor, being chairman of the BoG, were important parties to the issue, in the earlier writ petition their point of view was not sought by the court.

In the petition filed by Malak Naz there were five respondents: BoG through its secretary, search committee for appointment of principal through its convener, Edwardes College through its principal, Bishop of Diocese Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter and retired Brig Nayyar Firdows. The college principal by virtue of his post is the secretary of BoG.

When comments were filed on behalf of BoG, the principal and the Bishop in that petition it was mentioned that the college was a private institution.

The lawyers appearing for those respondents also argued that the college was private.

The faculty members have requested the court to revisit that judgment as the same was not based on facts. They have requested the court to declare the new BoG established by Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter in March this year as illegal and without lawful authority.

These petitioners have also referred to record of the proceedings of National Assembly wherein the issue of Edwardes College was discussed, stating that the Question-Answer sessions clearly proved that the college indeed stood nationalised.

They contend that subsequent to nationalisation, as Edwardes College was the sole private missionary institution prior to the nationalisation; the provincial government issued a notification in January 1974 whereby a proper Board was constituted with membership of all the stakeholders.

They contended that the bishop in setting up a rival BoG had acted in an illegal manner.

They added that the college had been funded for over five decades by the provincial government regularly and as such the college after attaining financial stability became an autonomous institution and not a private institution.

The Bishop of Peshawar has questioned different steps taken by the KP governor, including issuance of different letters in relation to the college affairs.

As Edwardes College is one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the province, which was thrice visited by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, there is a lot of attachment of people with it and they expect the high court to decide the matter at the earliest as the controversy had been affecting the college’s educational standard.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2019