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regular-article-logo Friday, 24 May 2024

Breather for Kerala VCs after Raj Bhavan strike

Bid for Sangh playground, says chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan

K.M. Rakesh Bangalore Published 25.10.22, 02:16 AM
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan arrives  to address the media conference.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan arrives to address the media conference. PTI

The vice-chancellors of eight state universities in Kerala can continue in their posts for now despite the governor and ex-officio chancellor asking them to resign by 11.30am on Monday, Kerala High Court ruled at a special hearing at 4pm during the Diwali holiday.

Sunday’s diktat from governor Arif Mohammed Khan, seeking the VCs’ resignations, had prompted chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to accuse him of trying to “destabilise” the state’s higher education system and convert its universities into “Sangh parivar playgrounds”.

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The single-judge bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran said that Sunday’s communication from Khan was not proper and that the VCs could be removed only after following due process.

However, between the time the VCs had petitioned the high court in the morning and the judge held the afternoon hearing, the governor had replaced Sunday’s diktat with showcause notices to the VCs, setting them a November 3 deadline.

Kannur University  vice-chancellor  Gopinath Ravindran

Kannur University vice-chancellor Gopinath Ravindran PTI picture

The high court took note of this and said the earlier communication had now lost its importance, and the VCs were “eligible to continue in their respective positions” till the governor decided on their replies to the notices.

Khan, who has had serial run-ins with Kerala’s Left Democratic Front government, had got the Raj Bhavan to post a tweet on Sunday seeking the resignations, alleging procedural irregularities in the VCs’ selection.

He had cited Friday’s Supreme Court order quashing the appointment of M.S. Rajashree, vice-chancellor of the state-run A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technological University, Thiruvananthapuram, over a procedural lapse in her selection.

Vijayan castigated Khan on Monday morning, saying a chancellor lacked the power to dismiss VCs under the University Act. He asserted that the apex court order applied to only one VC’s appointment but Khan was leveraging it to target eight others.

Khan, speaking at a news conference around 3pm, announced he had issued showcause notices to the VCs asking them to explain by 5pm on November 3 why they should not be removed from their posts.

He said that Sunday’s tweet was meant to offer the VCs an “honourable way out”. He argued that he was casting no aspersions on the eight VCs’ competence — he was only questioning the state government’s procedural lapses in appointing them.

Khan has alleged that the composition of the selection panels that picked the eight VCs was incorrect.

The VCs had approached the high court in their individual capacities. Additional advocate-general Ashok M. Cherian said the state was not taking any stand and would accept the court’s order.

Vijayan, addressing a news conference in Palakkad around 10.30am, had accused Khan of a “hidden agenda”.

“The position of chancellor is being misused to exercise non-existent powers…. This is an encroachment into the powers of a democratically elected government and undue interference in the universities that should be allowed to function freely,” he said.

“The hidden agenda is to prevent the surge of Kerala in higher education and to convert our universities into Sangh parivar playgrounds. We have seen the Sangh parivar’s interference in JNU, Hyderabad (University) and other universities. The attacks on our universities need to be read along with that.”

He said that vice-chancellors can be removed only for misappropriation of university funds or questionable character or behaviour.

“A vice-chancellor can be removed only if such charges are proved in an investigation by a judge from the Supreme Court or a high court. The chancellor has no powers to dismiss a vice chancellor under the University Act,” he said.

Asked whether Kerala would follow Bengal’s

example of removing the governor as chancellor of state universities, Vijayan said: “We have not thought about it yet. But we can’t say what will happen, the way things are going.”

Vijayan said that filing a review petition in the Supreme Court against the order on Rajashree was “under consideration”.

The Supreme Court had annulled Rajashree’s appointment on the ground that it flouted UGC norms since only one candidate was considered for the post.

(Additional reporting by PTI)

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