Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Monday quashed the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS). The court said the appointment was made in violation of UGC (University Grants Commission) norms.
The order, which apparently vindicates Governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s move seeking resignation of 11 VCs in the State over the violation, is a blow to the Left government which has been opposing him on the issue.
A Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly said the selection of Dr K Riji John as the VC of KUFOS cannot, what the judges said, be sustained under law as it overlooks the UGC regulations of 2018 regarding appointment of VCs.
The Bench held that the search-cum-selection committee, which recommended only his name for appointment, was also against the norms.
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”Taking into consideration the law accordingly, we have no hesitation to hold that the selection of Dr K Riji John as the VC of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, overlooking the UGC Regulations, 2018, cannot be sustained under law. We are also of the view that the search-cum-selection committee constituted is also in violation of the UGC Regulations, 2018,” it said.
As a result, the court quashed the 2020 notification issued by the Governor appointing the selection committee, its 2021 resolution recommending only one name and 2021 order of the Chancellor appointing John as VC for a period of five years or till he attains the age of 65, whichever is earlier.
The Bench directed the Chancellor to constitute a selection committee for recommendation of a panel of names in accordance with the UGC regulations at the earliest.
At the same time, the court said the contentions that John lacked the requisite years of service for appointment as VC were not legally sustainable.
The verdict was welcomed by the BJP and the Congress. Both said the judgement hit the government hard. But, the CPI(M) said the verdict would be legally examined and appropriate steps taken after that.
State Finance Minister K N Balagopal also speculated that the order might have been specific to the procedure followed in appointment of the VC of KUFOS and may not be applicable to everyone else.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president K Sudhakaran said the verdict was a setback to the LDF government which had allegedly appointed their favourites to key positions in the varsities.
He said in a statement that there needs to be a thorough investigation into all such appointments.
Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly V D Satheesan alleged that the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Khan were to blame for the appointments.
”They both created this problem. The Opposition stand that appointments were in violation of UGC norms has been endorsed by both the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court,” he said.
Satheesan, speaking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, further said all the VCs to whom showcause notices were sent should resign and re-apply for the post.
This way only the deserving and competent candidates would be selected, he said.
”Though they all are academically well qualified, they should not keep hanging on to their posts believing what the government is saying,” he added. BJP State president K Surendran said it was an indication that the Governor’s stand was correct and that of the ruling Left wrong.
Khan had sought resignation of the 11 VCs, including that of KUFOS, based on a Supreme Court order which, while quashing appointment of the VC of of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, had said that according to the UGC, a list of three suitable candidates has to be given to the Chancellor.
The apex court had also said a non-academician should not be part of the selection committee as per the UGC regulations.
According to Khan, the regulations were violated in the appointment of the 11 VCs and he, subsequently, sent them showcause notices asking why they should be allowed to continue in their posts in view of the apex court decision.
The lawyers appearing for the State government had contended before the High Court that the apex court judgement would not be applicable in this case.
But, the Bench disagreed by saying the top court had clearly stated that according to the norms, the Chancellor shall appoint the VC out of the panel of names recommended by the selection committee and when only one name is proposed, then the appointment ”can only be said to be dehors and/or contrary to the provisions of the Regulations”.
The High Court order came on the pleas moved by the applicants who participated in the selection process to the post of VC of KUFOS challenging the appointment of John.
The pleas challenged the appointment on various grounds, including that the selection committee did not have qualified academicians as per the UGC norms and there was also no representative in it from the UGC.