View from the Courtroom: Controversies mar Peshawar Edwardes College as PHC yet to decide legal issues

Updated August 26, 2019

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During the last couple of years, the college, which was established in 1900, has turned into a bone of contention. — AFP/File
During the last couple of years, the college, which was established in 1900, has turned into a bone of contention. — AFP/File

Different controversies continued to mar Historical Edwardes College, Peshawar, while the legal battle between different stakeholders over its administrative control has still been unresolved.

During the last couple of years, the college, which was established in 1900, has turned into a bone of contention between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and Diocese of Peshawar, whereas tension also persists between its principal and faculty members.

Recently, a war of words has started between the college’s administration and Higher Education Regulatory Authority (Hera), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, over the latter’s move to carry out inspection of the college by its scrutiny committee.

The college administration has been resisting the inspection scheduled for Aug 27 on ground of an order issued by Peshawar High Court in May wherein the court had directed the respondents in a writ petition including KP governor, chief secretary and secretary higher education not to take any adverse action against the affairs of the college.

A letter was sent on Aug 23 by the secretary to the college principal, Brigadier (retd) Dr Nayer Fardows, to the HERA’s Chairman Dr Amber Ali Khan and an additional secretary of higher education Fazl-e-Qadir, wherein it was mentioned that the scheduled inspection of the college was in violation of the order of the high court.

The HERA has responded to the plea of the college’s administration through a letter the same day stating that provisional registration was granted in eight additional disciplines, which was subject to removal of several shortcomings within two months of issuance of the provisional registration i.e Mar 8, 2019.

The letter sent by Hera’s secretary stated that the follow up inspection by the scrutiny committee of the authority had not been scheduled to take any adverse action rather to verify that whether the shortcomings pointed out earlier by the committee in its report on Sept 26, 2018, had been removed or otherwise.

It is added that under the given circumstances there was no justification to manifest undue reluctance in extending access to the members of the scrutiny committee rather this kind of approach would prima facie corroborate the allegations leveled against this institution to the authority from time to time.

The internal wrangling in the college has reached to an extent that recently when the principal was going abroad on leave he had issued an office order on July 19 and instead of delegating powers to the vice principal he ordered that in his absence, Senator Brig (retd) John Kenneth Williams, who is chairman of the college executive committee, will be the acting principal/administrator.

In May this year, the Diocese’s Bishop, Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter, had filed a writ petition in Peshawar High Court (PHC) claiming that he is the chairman of the college board of governor (BoG) and it is a private entity. He has requested the court to restrain the respondents including the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor from interfering into 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. he has questioned different steps taken by the KP governor including issuance of different letters in relation to the affairs of the college.

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.

They have 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 School and Colleges (Taking Over) Regulation 1972.”

The faculty members claimed that a notification was issued in 1974 by the education department NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), through which a BoG headed by the governor was created for the functioning of the college.

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

The high court has now clubbed all the related petitions and will hear these on Sept 3.

In both the petitions, that of Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter and of faculty members, the high court had granted them interim relief. In the former petition the court had ordered respondents not to take any adverse action against the affairs of the college.

Similarly, in the second petition a bench on June 12, had directed the respondents including the diocese’s bishop and the principal, not take any adverse action against the petitioners.

Earlier, on March 22, 2016, a bench headed by Justice Nisar Hussain had declared the college a private entity. The judgment was delivered in a writ petition filed by an academician Malak Naz, who had challenged the appointment of present college Principal Brigadier (retd) Nayyar Firdows by the BoG through a notification on Dec 5, 2014 for period of four years.

Malik Naz had raised multiple points in his petition: 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 appoint had not been made in accordance with law.

While dismissing his petition, the bench had ruled 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 in Jan 1974, the 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, the then Governor of KP issue notification for constitution of Board of Governor,” the bench ruled. It was ruled that Edwardes College, Peshawar, was a private educational institution funded by its own sources.

The faculty members and the government contend that in the earlier petition the court was not properly assisted and several important facts were concealed from the court and the point of view of the government was not heard.

In the light of the earlier judgment, the diocese of Peshawar created a new board of governors in March this year with the bishop as its chairman replacing the governor.

This state of affairs has drastically affected the academic standard of the college, which was once the most prestigious college in the province. Several of the former students believe that it would be in the interest of this historical institution, which was thrice visited by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, that the high court should decide the legal controversies at the earliest.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2019