Published: 22nd November 2022
VC vs Varsity: Have inquiry proceedings, legal action plagued VBU since VC Bidyut Chakrabarty took over?
While the war with VC continues and VBU spends lakhs on its rifts with faculty, in most cases Court’s interim orders are against the university
Visva-Bharati University’s (VBU) VIce-Chancellor (VC) Bidyut Chakrabarty took over his office in November 2018, and since then, the university has witnessed several show-cause notices and entwined itself in around 100 legal cases. Among them is also the inquiry proceeding against Prof Manas Maity, a Physics professor, which he challenged in the Calcutta High Court. The HC put a stay order on the proceedings and on November 18, the committee in charge of the proceedings halted the proceedings as per the court's order. “Prof Manas Maity has brought laurels for the university; it is a shame that he is getting harassed this way along with several others from the university,” says the President of the Visva-Bharati Faculty Association (VBUFA), Prof Sudipta Bhattacharyya. When asked why the professor cites political vendetta and differences in opinion as the reasons. Earlier this year, Prof Maity was suspended on a duty-related offence but faculty members claim it was because he wrote an email against the VC and participated in anti-VC protests.
Prof Suditpta Bhattachayya has also been at the receiving end of show-cause notices and suspension orders. In December 2020, he was issued a show-cause notice for allegedly breaching the code of conduct by communicating with the media. As per a report by The Wire, soon after VC Bidyut Chakrabarty’s appointment, the institution issued a directive prohibiting professors from communicating with the media about any issue. “Employees who raise their voice against socio-political issues or illegal activities in the institute are targeted and these whimsical rules and regulations are to curb their ability to do so. This is an exploitation of power to create a fear psychosis such that no one dares to speak up,” says philosophy department professor, Prof Kausik Bhattacharya.
The curious case of Prof Manas Maity
Prof Maity, an executive member of VBUFA, is internationally well-renowned as a scientist and was a member of the 2012 team that discovered the Higgs Boson particle. It was a part of the international project of the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) with which VBU, along with other Indian institutes, has been collaborating since 2005 on a global research initiative called Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). The Department of Science and Technology (DST) of the Union government has been funding the Indian institutions conducting this research and Prof Maity is the project's lead investigator from VBU. However, after his suspension this year, the VC wrote to the DST to request that funding for his research be ceased. Later in a letter, the DST informed the professor of their inability to sanction the project further.
Previously, Prof Manas Maity was also dismissed as the head of the Physics department after being accused of neglecting his duties. In all the cases, he approached the HC to contest the actions against him. The HC orders came in favour of the professor as it criticised the VC’s actions, calling it a reflection of a “biased mindset” and “small-minded approach”. The court further prohibited the DST from taking such coercive actions.
Recently the disciplinary proceedings against Prof Maity have halted altogether after the HC dismissed the accusation files brought against him. “There are a number of court cases pending in the HC of Calcutta. Following Prof Maity’s writ petition, the HC has quashed the charge sheets issued against him which were the subject matters of the disciplinary proceedings. Hence, the enquiry officers decided not to carry on the proceedings,” informs a professor who preferred to be anonymous.
Prof Sudipta Bhattacharyya and the complaints against him
Prof Bhattacharyya, an Economics professor at VBU, has been issued several show-cause notices as well. Among them was one for violating the code of conduct of the university by communicating with the media. He was also accused of instigating students in an action of vandalism near the VC’s residence; a charge that he says is “completely fictitious”. The professor was previously suspended for circulating a complaint letter and derogatory remarks about a colleague and forwarding copies of the same to high dignitaries via email. However, others claim the real reason was political vendetta and his vocal nature against the irregularities in the university.
In addition to this, the Board of Enquiry that was formed for the disciplinary proceedings against the Economics professor was initially formed of individuals closely associated with the VC. “Rajesh Gagna, Advocate of the Delhi High Court was a personal lawyer of Bidyut Chakrabarty in Sexual Harassment case against Delhi University in 2016,” informs Prof Bhattacharyya. The formation of the board was challenged and the HC gave stay order on enquiry committee and enquiry officer cannot be changed without consulting the court. However, the committee members were again appointed by the VC without the order of the court. “This is a clear violation of court order; this is contempt of court,” adds Prof Bhattacharyya, in exasperation.
Minutes of the Board of Enquiry meeting that was shared with EdexLive, reads, “We, the Board of Enquiry, are of the considered view that unless a leave of Hon’ble High Court is obtained for constitution of Board of Enquiry as directed by the Hon’ble High court vide order…titled Sudipta Bhattacharyya Vs. Visva-Bharati & Ors., the further proceedings are deferred.” When we reached out to a member of the Board of Enquiry for comments on the formation of this committee, he refused to comment. We got the same response from the officials of the university.
Misuse of public funds and curbing democratic freedom?
The Telegraph reported on August 9, 2022, that even universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, where the faculty members were embroiled in a huge rift with the VC at the time, had to witness fewer show-cause notices. The report also stated that nearly Rs 28 lakh has been spent by VBU in such legal and inquiry cases. “Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty has initiated several disciplinary proceedings to victimise the staff and the students. Naturally, the victims of Chakraborty's had to seek legal remedy. University's scarce resources are squandered to defend Chakraborty's illegal and vindictive actions. In all cases, the HC has quashed Chakrabarty's illegal actions and recorded very strong adverse comments,” states a concerned faculty member, adding, “He spent 4 years at Visva-Bharati blaming others, complaining and whining and making false, ridiculous accusations against one and all.” Echoing the same, Prof Kausik Bhattacharya says, “This is a complete misuse of public money. Most of the actions against the employees have no merit which is why they end up in court.” He further adds, “More than hundred court cases, suspension orders, stall in increment, demotions and more such unnecessary attacks on the employees have plagued the university since he got appointed.”
Visva-Bharati University (VBU) was built by Rabindranath Tagore in the place he called the ‘Abode of Peace’ or Shantiniketan in his attempt to build a free educational space close to nature. Owing to the recent events at the university, employees and students complain of a deliberate attempt to curb the free space inside the campus of VBU. In 2021, three students were also rusticated for three years for participating in protests. Nevertheless, the rustication order was also set aside by the HC after it was challenged by the students.
The university employees also blame the VC’s “whimsical and anarchic actions” as to why the varsity’s National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) rankings have plummeted. They further inform EdexLive that important positions like Pro-VC, Registrar, Finance Officer, Internal Audit Officer and others haven’t been deliberately filled up since Bidyut Chakrabarty became the VC. “The whole administration is paralysed. The MoE (Ministry of Education) should immediately start criminal proceedings against Chakrabarty for illegal and damaging actions, squandering funds and tarnishing Visva-Bharati's image,” concludes a professor.