Governor As A Chancellor Of A State University Must Act Independently And Not On Aid & Advice Of Council Of Ministers: Supreme Court
While setting aside the re-appointment of Dr. Gopinath Ravindran as the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Kannur University in Kerala, the Supreme Court on Thursday (30.11.2023) underlined that while acting as a Chancellor of a State University, the Governor of the State acted in his personal capacity and not on the aid and advice of the council of ministers. The bench comprising CJI DY...
While setting aside the re-appointment of Dr. Gopinath Ravindran as the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Kannur University in Kerala, the Supreme Court on Thursday (30.11.2023) underlined that while acting as a Chancellor of a State University, the Governor of the State acted in his personal capacity and not on the aid and advice of the council of ministers.
The bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra, in the judgement had quashed the notification dated November 23, 2021, re-appointing Dr. Gopinath Ravindran as the VC, on the ground of "unwarranted intervention of the State Government" and by observing that the Chancellor (Kerala Governor) "abdicated or surrendered" the statutory powers for re-appointing the Vice Chancellor.
The court underscored the autonomy of Kannur University, asserting that the Kannur University Act 1996 and the UGC statutes were formulated to safeguard the institution from interference by the State Government. It emphasized that the Chancellor, who holds a pivotal role in the university, acts independently and was not bound by the advice of the State Government in the exercise of his discretionary powers.
The verdict highlighted the distinct authorities of the Chancellor and the State Government, asserting that the former, in his capacity as the head of the university, acted in a personal capacity and not as a representative of the Governor's office. The Chancellor's powers, particularly in the appointment and reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor, were deemed to be exercised solely in the interest of the university, with the Chancellor being the sole judge in these matters. The
It was held that though by virtue of his office as Governor, he became the Chancellor of the University, but while discharging the functions of his office, he did not perform any duty or exercise any power of the office of the Governor individually. The court asserted–
"The statute makes a clear-cut distinction between two distinct authorities, namely, the Chancellor and the State Government. When the legislature intentionally makes such a distinction, the same must also be interpreted distinctly, and while dealing with the case of the Vice-Chancellor, the Governor, being the Chancellor of the University, acts only in his personal capacity, and therefore, the powers and duties exercised and performed by him under a statute related to the University, as its Chancellor, have absolutely no relation to the exercise and performance of the powers and duties by him while he holds office as the Governor of the State."
In its judgement, the court further added that as per the scheme of the Act of 1996 and the associated statutes, the Chancellor's role was deemed far more than titular. The decision reaffirmed that the Chancellor was not obligated to consult the Council of Ministers in the appointment process, emphasizing the personal discretion exercised by the Chancellor in university-related matters.
"Under the scheme of the Act 1996 and the statutes, the Chancellor plays a very important role. He is not merely a titular head. In the selection of the ViceChancellor, he is the sole judge and his opinion is final in all respects. In reappointing the Vice-Chancellor, the main consideration to prevail upon the Chancellor is the interest of the university," stated the bench.
The court explicitly stated that any external interference in the Chancellor's statutory discretion was impermissible, emphasizing that such interference amounted to dictation from political superiors and was inconsistent with the principles of law. The judgement added–
"The Chancellor was required to discharge his statutory duties in accordance with law and guided by the dictates of his own judgment and not at the behest of anybody else. Law does not recognise any such extra constitutional interference in the exercise of statutory discretion. Any such interference amounts to dictation from political superior and has been condemned by courts on more than one occasions."
Case Title: Dr Premchandran Keezhoth & Anr v The Chancellor Kannur University & Ors | C.A. No. 7700/2023
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 1025