16 March 2023 12:00 PM GMT
In a significant order, the Calcutta High Court has ruled that the State has no authority to appoint, re-appoint, or extend the tenures of Vice Chancellors of the universities in the state of West Bengal.It has further held that the appointment of Vice-Chancellors should be strictly in accordance with the provisions of law. The division bench comprising of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava...
In a significant order, the Calcutta High Court has ruled that the State has no authority to appoint, re-appoint, or extend the tenures of Vice Chancellors of the universities in the state of West Bengal.
It has further held that the appointment of Vice-Chancellors should be strictly in accordance with the provisions of law.
The division bench comprising of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj, have ordered the removal of Vice-Chancellors of nearly 29 universities in the State, who were appointed/re-appointed by the state government based on the amendments to the West Bengal Universities Act carried out in 2012 and 2014.
The order came in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that was filed challenging the validity of the amendments carried out in 2012 and 2014 stating that they are unconstitutional and in complete violation of UGC regulations. The petition had further challenged the appointment of some Vice-Chancellors, on the ground that they were appointed without proper search committees, did not meet minimum eligibility criteria, or were appointed without approval of the Chancellor, and were therefore in defiance of the UGC regulations.
Submissions of the Petitioner’s Counsel:
Submissions of the Advocate General (appearing on behalf of the State):
Broad submissions forwarded by the counsels appearing for the other respondents were as follows:
Issues for consideration before the Court
I. Whether taking recourse to removal of the difficulty clause, the State Government is competent to appoint the Vice-Chancellor?
II. Whether the State Government is empowered to extend the tenure of the Vice-Chancellor on expiry of his tenure?
III. Whether the UGC Regulations, 2018 are applicable in the State of West Bengal?
IV. Whether the appointment of the respondent Vice- Chancellors not fulfilling the minimum eligibility conditions of 10 years experience as Professor as prescribed in Regulation 7.3.i of UGC Regulations, 2018 is a valid appointment?
V. Whether appointment of the respondents as Vice-Chancellor by a Search Committee constituted without having a nominee of Chairman of the UGC as required by Regulation 7.3.ii of UGC Regulations, 2018 can be said to be a lawful appointment?
VI. Whether the provisions of the amended Acts of 2012 and 2014 to the extent they are in contravention of the provisions of UGC Regulations, 2018 can be enforced?
The bench held, “This Court has taken note of the importance of the post of vice-chancellor in the university, therefore, it is essential that the appointment of the vice chancellor should be strictly in accordance with the law. It would not be in the interest of the students and administration of the universities to continue the concerned respondents as vice chancellor of the university once it is found that they have been appointed without following the due procedure and contrary to the provisions of the Act and that too by an authority not competent to appoint”
On the first issue which relates to the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor taking recourse to the removal of difficulty clause by the State Government, the bench held, "Facts on record indicate that some of the VCs have been appointed by the State Government taking recourse to the provisions of the removal of difficulty clause which in substance is the same as Section 60 of the Calcutta University Act, 1979, therefore, in view of the judgment of the top court in the case of Anindya Sundar Das, their appointment cannot be sustained”
With respect to the second issue which was in respect of the legality of the orders issued by the State Government extending the tenure of those respondent Vice- Chancellors who were initially appointed as Chancellor, the bench noted, "Once the power to reappoint or extend the tenure is vested with the chancellor and the same cannot be usurped by the State under removal of difficulty clause, then the State is required to show as to how or under which provision, the State had passed the order reappointing or extending the tenure of some of the VCs”
The bench further noted, “In the present case, some of the respondent Vice-Chancellors were initially appointed by the Chancellor but their tenures have been extended by the State Government without any authority of law. Hence, the orders extending their tenure as vice chancellor passed by the State government cannot be sustained…When the State has no power to appoint or reappoint the vice chancellor, the State cannot appoint vice chancellor by giving additional charge, therefore orders passed by the State government giving additional charge of vice-chancellor are also bad in law”
Dealing with the other issues, the bench stated, "... UGC Regulations, 2018 are applicable and the appointments which have been made in violation of the UGC Regulations, 2018 cannot be sustained. In the present case, some of the respondent Vice-Chancellors do not fulfil the minimum qualification of 10 years’ experience as professor in the university or 10 years’ of expertise in a reputed research and/or administrative organisation with proof of having demonstrated academic leadership, therefore, their appointment is contrary to Regulation 7.3.i of UGC Regulations, 2018.
It is also undisputed that the Search Committee formed for the appointment of all the respondent Vice-Chancellors did not have one Member nominated by the Chairman, University Grants Commission as required by Regulation 7.3.ii, therefore, their appointments are contrary to Regulation 7.3.ii of UGC Regulations, 2018.”
In view of the above analysis, the bench held that, "the impugned provisions of amended Acts of 2012 and 2014 to the extent they are repugnant to the UGC Regulations, 2018 relating to appointment of Vice-Chancellor cannot be sustained and the State is directed to consider making suitable amendments in the concerned Acts to bring them in conformity with the UGC Regulations, 2018 preferably within a period of six months."
The court stated that it is essential that the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor should be strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Act, and in view of the same, allowed the writ petition while also passing the following directions:
i. The provisions of UGC Regulations, 2018 will prevail over the conflicting provisions of the concerned State Universities Act, relating to appointment of Vice- Chancellor, under which the respondent Vice-Chancellors have been appointed.
ii. The appointment of those respondent Vice-Chancellors who are appointed, reappointed, whose tenure extended or who are given additional charge by the order of the State Government or who do not possess minimum eligibility condition or appointed without following the due procedure are held to be unsustainable and without the authority of law. Therefore, they have no right to continue as Vice- Chancellors by virtue of such unsustainable orders.
Case Title: Anupam Bera vs State of West Bengal WPA (P) 170 of 2022
Case Title: 2023 LiveLaw (Cal) 69
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