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SC sets aside reappointment of Kannur University VC

The apex court quashed the notification reappointing him, and stated that there was an unwarranted intervention by the Kerala government.

SC sets aside reappointment of Kannur University VC

File Photo: Supreme Court

In a significant judgment that will have a bearing on the powers of the University Chancellors (State Governors) across the country, the Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the reappointment of Dr. Gopinath Ravindran as vice-chancellor of Kannur University, Kerala.

Quashing the November 23, 2021 notification issued by the Chancellor (Kerala Governor) reappointing Dr. Gopinath Ravindran as the vice-chancellor of Kannur University, a bench comprising Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra said, “We have reached to the conclusion that although the notification reappointing the respondent No. 4 (Dr Gopinath Ravindran ) to the post of Vice-Chancellor was issued by the Chancellor yet the decision stood vitiated by the influence of extraneous considerations or to put it in other words by the unwarranted intervention of the State Government.”

Further holding that “there was no independent application of mind or satisfaction of judgment on the part of the Chancellor and Dr Gopinath Ravindran (R-4) came to be reappointed only at the behest of the State Government”, the bench said, “Under the scheme of the Kannur University Act, 1996 and the statutes, the Chancellor plays a very important role. He is not merely a titular head. In the selection of the Vice-Chancellor, 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.”

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Making a distinction between the Chancellor and the Governor – two offices vested in the same person – Justice Pardiwala speaking for the bench said, “ It is the Chancellor who has been conferred with the competence under the Kannur University Act 1996 to appoint or reappoint a Vice-Chancellor. No other person even the Pro-Chancellor or any superior authority can interfere with the functioning of the statutory authority and if any decision is taken by a statutory authority at the behest or on a suggestion of a person who has no statutory role to play, the same would be patently illegal.”

The judgment said that 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.”

The bench said this answering four questions that includes – Whether reappointment is permissible in respect of a tenure post?, Whether the outer age limit of sixty years for the appointment of Vice-Chancellor as stipulated under sub-section (9) of Section 10 of the Act 1996 is to be made applicable even in the case of reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor for one more term of four years?,  Whether the reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor has to follow the same process as a fresh appointment by setting up a selection committee under Section 10(1) of the Act 1996? And Did the Chancellor abdicate or surrender his statutory power of reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor.

Answering first three questions, the court said that incumbent Vice-chancellor, having a term post, can be reappointed and the reappointment is not hit by age bar of 60 years and there was no need for setting up a search and selection committee in the event of reappointment.

The court said this while setting aside the February 2022, Kerala High Court judgment upholding the reappointment of Dr. Gopinath Ravindra as Kannur University Vice-chancellor. The top court said this while answering four questions framed by it while adjudicating the challenge to the High Court judgment.

Answering the fourth question, the court said that it has allowed the challenge to the High Court judgment, and stated that the Chancellor abdicated or surrendered his power rendering the entire decision process bad.

Finding flaws with the process that was followed, the court stated this relying on the press note issued by the Kerala Governor’s office which said, “Kerala Raj Bhawan strongly refutes some news reports that it was on the directions of the Hon’ble Governor that the name of Dr. Gopinath Ravindran was suggested. The truth is that the same was initiated by the Chief Minister and the Higher Education Minister.”

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