Published: 29th September 2021
Delhi HC says JNU prof from one centre can't be chairperson of another, based on plaint by ex-chairperson who violated same rule
The university's counsel contended that even though there are two professors at the centre, they are unfit for the appointment
Issues with appointments are not new to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and this time it's the Centre of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Latin American Studies (CSPILAS) of the School of Language, Literature & Cultural Studies (SLL&CS) that's in the eye of the storm. A Delhi High Court bench set aside the appointment of the current Chairperson, Dr Mazhar Asif, simply because his appointment violates university statutes. Dr Asif is not from the same Centre and belongs to the Centre for Persian and Central Asian Studies under the same school.
The petition was filed by Dr Rajiv Saxena, a professor of the CSPILAS. He has also served as the Chairperson earlier. Dr Saxena's counsel argued that the university's Statute 18(2)(c)(I) states, “Each Centre or Department shall have a Chairperson who shall be appointed by the Executive Council from amongst the Professors or Senior Fellows for two years. Provided that wherein any Centre or Department, there is only one Professor or Senior Fellow, the Executive Council may also appoint one of the Associate Professors or Fellows as the Chairman of the Centre or Department.” Justice V Kameswar Rao said that even though it is not mentioned explicitly that the appointment has to be from the centre, "the proviso clause...makes it clear that the professor(s) has to be from the same centre".
The university's counsel contended that even though there are two professors at the Centre, they are unfit for the appointment. The letter from the varsity on June 30, had also said that Dr Saxena had already completed two consecutive terms as the chairperson and could not be appointed again and Dr Indrani Mukherjee, the other professor at the centre, "was replaced as the Chairperson during her term due to a certain misconduct". But the court pointed out that nowhere does it say that one cannot be appointed for more than two terms. "There is no stipulation in Statute 18, which limits the appointment of Chairperson of a centre only for two terms. In fact, the learned counsel for the petitioner has stated that the faculty in the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy has occupied the position of Chairperson since 2014. In other words, there is no bar for being appointed beyond two terms," said the high court.
But that's not the only issue. The varsity counsel gave repeated examples of misconduct, financial discrepancies and many more complaints against Dr Saxena during his previous terms to make the point that he is not a good fit. And the court agreed. Justice Rao said that Dr Saxena has not pleaded to be made the Chairperson in the petition. "The working of the petitioner as reflected in various documents is such that his appointment shall not be in the public interest. In any case, I find it is not the prayer of the petitioner that he be appointed for a further term," said Justice Rao.
The judge commented that Dr Mukherjee might be a better fit and the idea to judge her on her actions nine years ago may not be wise. But this can't be decided this time as Dr Mukherjee is not a party to the petition. "Surely, the conduct of Prof Indrani Mukherjee cannot be taken against her at least in 2021. But I find that Dr Indrani Mukherjee is not a party in the writ petition. Hence, no claim on behalf of Dr Indrani Mukherjee can be entertained in this petition," said the judge.
Before setting aside Dr Asif's appointment, the judge also took a jibe at Dr Saxena because he has also been the Chairperson of the Centre for French Studies. "If that be so, the very ground on which the petitioner is contesting the appointment of the respondent No 2 (Dr Asif) as Chairperson of CSPILAS is not justified and he has no locus to challenge the appointment being a beneficiary of similar action of the university," the court contended.
But that does not mean that Dr Asif can remain the Chairperson of the Centre. "The question is whether the appointment of respondent No 2, (Dr Asif) as Chairperson of the Centre can be upheld by this Court. The answer to this has to be ‘No’. Any conclusion in that regard would be contrary to the provisions of Statute 18 and even Ordinance 4," said the judge.