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Gauging ongoing Manipur University Impasse from the Precedent Cases of Removing Vice Chancellor

IT Desk.

Vice Chancellors of the University are appointed through a process which starts with the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry setting up a search-cum-selection committee to scrutinize applications and invite candidates for an interview. The committee then submits a panel of finalists (usually 3-4) to the Ministry, which forwards it to the President. The President selects one person from the list, after which appointment orders are formally issued. There are, however, no established provisions to sack the Vice Chancellor (VC) of a central university.  The Central Universities Act, 2009, says that as the Visitor, the President “may, from time to time, appoint one or more persons to review the work and progress of the University”. The Central Universities Act of 2009, empowers the HRD Ministry to fire VC s on grounds of incapacity, misconduct or violation of statutory provisions. The President of India, who is the Visitor to the Central universities, can invoke Section 16 of the General Clause Act to remove a VC. Section 16 empowers the appointing authority - under any central Act or regulation - to “suspend or dismiss any person appointed”.
1. Visva-Bharati University: When, on 15 February 2016, the President, who is the Visitor of all central universities, approved the dismissal of Prof. Sushanta Dattagupta from the post of Vice Chancellorship of Visva Bharati, it happened for the first time that the head of a central university has been sacked. The following day the HRD Ministry issued a three-page order removing him. HRD Ministry is now expected to once again recommend the VC’s sacking to the President. Dattagupta, at the time of his dismissal, still has nearly eight months left in his term. He also had the earlier cases of sexual harassment against him. There also have been rumblings in academic circles against Professor Duttagupta in the past. He has been accused of making illegal appointments including the appointment of the Controller of Examinations despite having no powers to do so and sanctioning key posts in violation of the Visva-Bharti, drawing pension from Jawaharlal Nehru University along with his salary from Visva-Bharati without getting it deducted from his pay and getting his liquor bills reimbursed by the varsity. All these are statedly in violation of University Act. He had denied the allegation saying it as a malicious campaign against him by a section of disgruntled university employees. He was given 21 days to explain his position before the Union HRD Ministry contemplates further action against him
The three-member panel headed by a former judge of Allahabad High Court, took cognizance of several enquiries and complaints against Dattagupta including alleged misappropriation of funds. The HRD Ministry had then recommended Dattagupta’s sacking on grounds of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty in its final report to the President of India.
The probe found him guilty, and a show cause notice was served in June. Unsatisfied with his reply, the Ministry recommended his removal to the President on September 21, 2015, on the following grounds:
* That he continued to draw a basic salary of Rs 80,000 per month from Visva Bharati along with a pension of Rs 17,596 every month from Jawaharlal Nehru University without getting his pension deducted from his pay, in violation of rules.
* That he made irregular/illegal appointments, with the appointees in most cases failing to meet eligibility criteria prescribed by the University Grants Commission.

* That he approved payment of Rs 5 lakh as honorarium to an enquiry officer even though the government has fixed a ceiling of Rs 75,000 for a departmental inquiry.
* That he got personal bills for alcoholic beverages reimbursed by the university during his stay at the India International Centre in New Delhi during August-September 2012, which is a “serious case of financial impropriety”.
The sources said, the President wants the ministry to accept the resignation and has informally conveyed its unwillingness to sack Dattagupta, which the government wasn’t keen on doing so as it would absolve Dattagupta of all the allegations. The delay in acting against Dattagupta seemed to have made students and faculty of the university in Visva-Bharati restless. About 20 intellectuals and professors, including Rajya Sabha member D Bandhyopadhyay, wrote to the President and the Prime Minister, urging them to act quickly on this matter. HRD ministry then had sent the file to the President recommending dismissal of Dattagupta. According to sources in Rashtrapati Bhavan, the HRD Ministry followed “due process” in its probe against Dattagupta and that the VC was given a fair chance to present his defence against the allegations. Rashtrapati Bhavan, however, returned the file asking the government to clarify if the proposed removal was legally tenable and, also, whether the VC should be sacked without a chance to present his case in person. The Attorney General, in his opinion, clarified that the President can grant Dattagupta a personal hearing, although the latter has already had a chance to present his defence in writing to the government. He had challenged the legality of the fact-finding committee instituted against him by the government. After his plea was shot down by the Calcutta High Court, he had e-mailed his resignation to Rashtrapati Bhavan on September 30, 2015. Accepting the Ministry of HRD’s recommendation, President of India, Pranab Mukherjee on Monday removed Sushanta Duttagupta from the post of Visva-Bharati University’s Vice-Chancellor (VC) on 15 February 2016.
2. Pondicherry University: The President of India gave his approval to HRD ministry’s recommendation to sack Pondicherry University Vice Chancellor Chandra Krishnamurthy, facing allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation. Pondicherry University VC Chandra Krishnamurthy had been issued a show cause notice after a UGC committee found her guilty of plagiarism and misrepresentation. She took charge on February 1, 2013 for a five-year term. On August 2015, she was served the show cause notice asking her to explain why she should not be dismissed. However, the VC had challenged the “procedural fairness” in issue of the notice, but after a court verdict found nothing wrong in it, she replied to it earlier this year. Her reply was studied by the ministry which had then sent a report to the President recommending sacking her. She had also tendered her resignation last month. This is the second instance when HRD ministry has pushed for dismissal of vice chancellor of a central university. Earlier this year, it had dismissed VisvaBharati vice chancellor SushantaDattagupta, who faced allegations of financial and administrative irregularities.
3. Garhwal University: After Sushanta Dattagupta of Visva-Bharati University and Chandra Krishnamurthy of Pondicherry University, Kaul was the third Vice Chancellor dismissed by the incumbent government. President Ram NathKovind is learnt to have approved the sacking of the Vice Chancellor (VC) of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal (HNBG) University, Jawaharlal Kaul, for alleged administrative However, this is the first instance of the NDA-II government going after its own appointee in a central university. Kaul was appointed in November 2014, when Smriti Irani was HRD Minister. He had little less than two years left in office by the time he was removed. As first reported by The Indian Express on 21 November 2015, HRD Ministry had forwarded a proposal to sack Kaul and justified it on two counts. First, he allegedly allowed colleges to increase intake in some courses to 200 seats, even though university rules permit only 60 seats in each programme and 80 in exceptional cases. Second, he took a decision to charge a college affiliation fee lower than the prescribed amount. Kaul was served a show cause notice in February 2016 year based on conclusions of a two-member fact-finding committee set up to probe complaints from the Central Vigilance Commission last year, alleging administrative mismanagement. He was given three weeks to present his defense regarding five allegations, including the charge of approving backdated affiliation to a few teacher training institutes. The notice also accused him of allowing the university to declare examination results of some private institutes when the status of their affiliation to the university was under the scanner. Kaul’s defense against allegations of allowing colleges to increase seats above the permitted limit and undercharging affiliation fee was found unsatisfactory by the ministry and, hence, shown as grounds for sacking.
In the case of Manipur University also, the allegations labeled against the incumbent Vice Chancellor are of serious and grave nature which merit thorough probe by a competent independent body headed by a retired Judge of a High Court. One glaring example of the unwanted outcome of his perennial outstationed holidaying which so far has not come out prominently is the cancellation and abandoning of the first ever post graduate examination of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) for Pathology and Microbiology held on 08 May this year. Regarding this, JNIMS authority wrote to the Manipur University Administration in January informing that informing that post graduate examinations would be held and ensures that one Medical Council of India (MCI) is deputed for the same. The University took three long months to send the JNIMS authority’s letter to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare along with the final examination schedule on 14 April. The documents sent by the Manipur University reportedly reached the Ministry on 27 April. If better sense prevails, his honorable exit and saner option would be resignation.

William Gurumayum

William Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since beginning. A avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue.

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