Ranchi, June 18: In a dramatic and unprecedented development, Jharkhand Governor Syed Ahmed, exercising his authority as chancellor of universities, today ordered a “freeze” on the powers of Birsa Agriculture University (BAU) vice chancellor M.P. Pandey with immediate effect, a move seen by many as politically motivated and uncalled for.
A press release from Raj Bhavan said the freeze was taken in the wake of complaints against Pandey, including appointing persons without taking seniority and experience into account, misleading the BAU board of governors and rather curiously, smuggling red sandalwood.
According to Raj Bhavan, allegations were found correct prima facie, and a retired judge of Jharkhand High Court, Vikramaditya Prasad, will now further probe into them.
So, while Pandey will continue to enjoy the perks of his post such as chauffeur-driven car and bungalow and may attend office if he so wants, he can’t take decisions, sign on any document or preside over any meeting.
According to the governor’s order, South Chotanagpur division commissioner K.K. Khandelwal would now take charge of day-to-day functions of the VC.
The announcement has been greeted by shock and alarm in the corridors of power who feel the senior academic has been unnecessarily targeted.
Pandey, VC of BAU since 2011 and formerly head of reputable institutions under Indian Council of Agricultural Research such as Indira Gandhi Agriculture University (Raipur, Chhattisgarh) and Central Rice Research Institute (Cuttack, Odisha), will turn 68 this September and is slated to retire the same month.
Originally from Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh, he is considered a doer in academic circles.
His unceremonious removal is being seen as a ploy of some senior BAU officials eyeing the chair and state agriculture minister Yogendra Sao allegedly agreeing to the goings-on.
Sao said he wrote a letter to the governor a couple of months ago, seeking a probe into allegations of financial irregularities by the VC and reasons behind employee unrest.
“He (Pandey) was found to be administratively weak in handling the situation. There were reports of official documents being destroyed in BAU,” the minister told The Telegraph while travelling to Delhi by train.
Pandey dismissed the allegations. “The charges levelled against me are baseless. An impartial inquiry will set the record straight,” he said.
Among the many allegations against Pandey, the sandalwood theft appears to be ludicrous on its face.
Varsity sources said an FIR was lodged last year when some thieves fled with branches of a sandalwood tree on BAU campus near the girls’ hostel.
A senior government official questioned the sanctity of Raj Bhavan’s action. “Action should not be taken against such a senior official (VC) without proper inquiry and without giving him an opportunity to be heard,” said the senior IAS officer.
Raj Bhavan also revoked its three-year ban on all appointments at the state’s sole agriculture university.
More than 80 per cent of teaching staff vacancies at BAU, including registrar, assistant registrar, deans, director and assistant director of administration, among others, have been vacant for the past three-and-a-half years.
In 2011, Raj Bhavan had clamped a blanket ban on BAU appointments following complaints that many of the 137 Class III and Class IV staff, appointed the same year, were friends and relatives of political leaders, bureaucrats and varsity employees.
On June 14, following an inquiry by retired Justice Vikramaditya Prasad, Raj Bhavan had ordered immediate termination of 53 such employees.
The sources added that all the illegal appointments were made during the tenure of the then BAU VC N.N. Singh. Pandey had nothing to do with it.