By nixing reappointment of Cal Univ VC, has HC paved way for more such actions?


Kolkata, Sep 18 : On September 13, a division bench of Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava overruled a decision of the West Bengal government to reappoint Sonali Chakraborti Banerjee as the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University. The dismissal was on the grounds that her reappointment was done without giving prior intimation to the then Governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar, who is now the Vice President of India. What were the legal grounds on which the division bench dismissed the reappointment of Banerjee as the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University. When contacted, not a single leader of the Trinamool Congress agreed to comment on this matter. According to the counsel of the petitioner, Billwadal Bhattacharya, the division bench accepted the argument of the petitioner, who challenged the reappointment, that the decision was arbitrary on the part of the state government since it was not made following the consent of the then governor. According to him, the state government has to take the consent of the governor while appointing the vice-chancellor of any state university. According to advocate general SN Mukhopadhyay, who appeared for the state government in this case, as per the rules of Calcutta University, the reappointment of a Vice-Chancellor is not at par with any appointment for the same post since although a fresh appointment of vice-chancellor is made as per provisions of the University Grants Commission, in case of reappointment, the West Bengal Governor has to accept the decision of the state government. The court's observation was that the procedures cannot be different for appointment and reappointment. Although there were rumours that the state government might approach the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the division bench of the Calcutta High Court, no such initiative has been taken by the government. However, Banerjee herself has approached the apex court challenging the decision. As per the records of the West Bengal education department, Sonali Chakraborti Banerjee, daughter of Bengali poet late Nirendranath Chakraborti and wife of former West Bengal chief secretary and the current chief advisor to the state government, Alapan Banerjee, was first appointed in 2017. That appointment was done as per the UGC norms taking the consent of the then governor, Keshari Nath Tripathi. However, in 2021 she was reappointed by the state government without the consent of the then governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. The state government last year made similar reappointments of 24 other vice-chancellors in the state and again without the consent of the governor. Already PILs challenging some of these 24 reappointments are in the hearing stage in the Calcutta High Court. So, going by the judgement of the High Court's division bench in the case of the reappointment of Calcutta University's vice-chancellor, by the same logic the reappointments of vice-chancellors of more state universities done in a similar manner might be cancelled also. According to senior counsel of the Calcutta High Court, Kaushik Gupta, a judgement is based on the understanding of the law and the interpretation of the legal provisions. "In this case, the interpretation had been based on the provision for reappointment taking the governor's consent. Had the reappointment been done taking the governor's consent, I feel such complications would not have arisen. But again, it is quite possible that the higher court can interpret the legal provisions from a different approach. But for that we will have to wait till the higher court gives its decision," he added. Educationist and professor of history of Rabindra Bharati University, AK Das feels that ideally the practice of appointing a vice-chancellor either through a search committee of experts and educationists or through secret ballot by the members of the working committee should prevail. According to him, there are two contradictory views on whether the right to appoint or re-appoint vice-chancellors should exclusively remain with the state government or will the state government have to take the consent of the governor in that appointment. "One section feels that since the state government has the overall responsibility of the education system of the state, it should have the exclusive right to appoint or reappoint vice-chancellors without waiting for the governor's consent. The contrary view is that the consent of the governor on this issue should prevail or else the state government will have the total liberty to appoint or reappoint to fulfil the agenda of the ruling party," he added. /IANS


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