Sugata Marjit on Wednesday resigned as state higher education council chairman, citing research commitments and other engagements, after a rather prickly stint that lasted a little more than two years.
Marjit, also a professor of economics at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, handed his resignation to education minister Bratya Basu, who accepted it immediately.
The Trinamul government had appointed Marjit chairman of the West Bengal Council of Higher Education in July 2011. The tenure came to an abrupt end on Wednesday amid a cloud of controversy over allegations of interference in the affairs of autonomous universities and differences with the minister.
“I have not resigned because of any difference with the state government or the minister. I am always ready to help the state government in my own capacity,” Marjit told a press conference with Basu, with whom he had been on a collision course over choosing a successor for Presidency University vice-chancellor Malabika Sarkar, seated next to him at the minister’s chamber in Bikash Bhavan. “Chief minister Mamata Banerjee knows about my resignation,” he added.
Marjit was said to have got the job because of his proximity to Trinamul but several of the council’s decisions during his tenure left the state red in the face, a source in the government said.
The outgoing chairman’s bid to pressure universities to admit post-graduate students through a centralised entrance test and insistence that universities promote teachers on the basis of academic audits conducted jointly with the council were seen as attempts to curb the freedom of institutions.
“The government had not supported many of the council’s decisions, particularly the way Marjit had been trying to pressure universities to accept his moves, infringing upon their autonomy,” an official said.
One official said Marjit’s moves had not gone down well with the chief minister, who had promised not to repeat the CPM’s mistake of trying to control academic institutions.
“Presidency University is the chief minister’s dream project and Marjit tried to interfere there as well. He questioned the need for a mentor group and said the mentors should be take classes at Presidency to justify their presence,” an official said. “After the Presidency fiasco, the top Trinamul leadership had a rethink on Marjit’s role.”
The differences between Marjit and minister Basu spilled out in the open after Marjit announced that Presidency VC Sarkar’s tenure would end on August 14, the day she turned 65.
The mentor group wanted Sarkar to continue and Basu echoed it, saying Sarkar would hold the post till February 2014. “I don’t know what Sugata Marjit has said (but) the appointment of a VC is the higher education department’s job and the higher education council has nothing to do with it,” the minister had said.
The chancellor had then stepped in and granted a six-month extension to Sarkar.