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Law tweak to save Trinamul varsity embarrassment

A series of “bitter” experiences with vice-chancellors has prompted the Trinamul government to tweak a law in an attempt to bar academicians from being at the helm of universities without the ruling party’s backing.

The Assembly passed the West Bengal University Laws Amendment Bill, 2014, on July 10.

A clause in the amendment states that the chancellor would have to select his nominee for the VC search panel in consultation with the education minister.

The chancellor’s nominee is the chairperson of the panel. The other two members of the panel are nominated by the state government and the university court (senate at Calcutta University).

The Trinamul Congress promised to rid education of politics soon after coming to power but its experience with interim and full-term VCs over the past three years has forced a change in approach.

“We were compelled to dilute some of the legal provisions after noticing the manner in which some of the vice-chancellors were functioning,” said a senior university teacher close to Trinamul.

According to him, the government will try to ensure that only Trinamul loyalists are shortlisted for the post of vice-chancellor. To ensure that the government needs loyalists in the search panels that shortlist candidates for the post.

The passage of the amendment bill guarantees that candidates who are neutral or opposed to the government’s policies will not make it to the search panel.

“The policy-making bodies of the universities are usually dominated by ruling party loyalists. So the court’s nominee is bound to be a Trinamul sympathiser. With the amendment mandating the chancellor to consult the education minister before finalising his/her nominee, all three members of the search panel will be sympathisers of the ruling party,” said an official.

In some cases, the chancellor had selected a candidate for the post of VC ignoring the disapproval of the state government. For example, the government was against Souvik Bhattacharyya, a professor of mechanical engineering at IIT Kharagpur, being appointed as Jadavpur University VC. But the chancellor ignored the government’s reservation and appointed him to the post.

The government had also expressed its dissatisfaction when the chancellor applied his own yardstick and selected Ajoy Kumar Ray as the VC of the Bengal Engineering and Science University — since upgraded to the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology — for the second consecutive term.

In some cases the government had not initially disapproved of the search panel’s choice as the academicians who topped the shortlists did not appear to be anti-Trinamul. “But after assuming office many of them started functioning in a way (read in a neutral way) that left the government and ruling party embarrassed,” said a teacher leader of Trinamul.

For example, the government had not objected to the appointment of Rattan Lal Hangloo as vice-chancellor of Kalyani University.

But the role played by him in unearthing a cash-for-seat scandal, allegedly steered by a Trinamul student wing leader, had embarrassed the party.

“It’s time we had a system to ensure that the VCs do not cause embarrassment to the government,” said a source.