After VCs petition High Court against order for resignation, Kerala Governor issues show-cause notice

The Kerala High Court heard the matter on Monday evening and concluded that the VCs will continue to remain in office until the final word on the issue by the Governor
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan | Pic: PTI
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan | Pic: PTI

The Vice-Chancellors of nine Kerala universities who were asked to resign by 11.30 am on Monday, October 24 by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan now have until November 3 to show why they have the legal right to stay in office. 

The nine VCs had refused to abide by the order to resign, which was issued by the Raj Bhavan on Sunday, October 23. The VCs had instead moved the Kerala High Court on the issue, which then held a special hearing on the matter at 4.00 pm yesterday. The single-judge bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran held that since the Governor, who is also the Chancellor of Universities had issued the show cause notice on Monday to the nine VCs, his earlier order asking them to resign stands void and the VCs can continue in office until the final order in the matter by the Chancellor.

As per LiveLaw, senior Advocates P Ravindran and Ranjith Thampan who represented the two of the VCs in court yesterday argued that as per the statute, the Chancellor does not have the powers to remove the VCs from their post suo moto in the absence of a challenge to the post or the appointment. However, Justice Devan inquired whether the Chancellor cannot act if he realised he must have made a mistake in the appointment of the VCs. The decision of the Governor to demand the resignation of the VCs was based on the order by the Supreme Court on Friday, October 21, which found the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU) in Kerala to be violating the regulations of the University Grants Commission. These regulations state that the search committee formed to select the Vice-Chancellor is required to recommend a panel of at least three names for the post and it is from among these three names that the Chancellor will select one to be the Vice-Chancellor. However, in the case of the appointment of the KTU VC, only one name, that of MS Rajasree was recommended by the search committee. 

In his order to the VCs to resign, the Governor thus said, "In view of the above Supreme Court judgement, the following persons either a single name panel or recommended by the Search/Selection Committee with non-academician as member) whose continuation in the office is affected are ineligible to continue as Vice-Chancellors." The order then went on to name the VCs of University of Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi University, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Kannur University, APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, the University of Calicut and Thunachath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, while speaking with the press yesterday said that he had given the VCs an opportunity to quit the office in a "dignified" manner. He added that "unqualified individuals were holding the posts just because they belonged to the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) party cadre". Counsel appearing for the Chancellor in court on Monday said, "The letter (issued on Sunday) may be seen as an appeal or a pious hope that they will resign in the light of the Supreme Court judgment," according to LiveLaw. 

When the Advocate General of Kerala appeared before the court to say that the order by the Governor was "issued in haste," Justice Devan took a stern stance on the matter. "Let the State not say that. Let the State not take sides between Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor. I am surprised that the State should say it is taking sides," he said, according to a tweet by LiveLaw. The order for the resignation of the VCs has ruffled a few feathers in the ruling LDF party. Protests have been planned in front of the Raj Bhavan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the Governor's move an encroachment on the powers of a democratically-elected government. 

In its ruling on Monday, the High Court bench said that all appeals made by the petitioners are left open and that they will continue to hold office until the final decision is taken by the Chancellor on the matter. "The argument of the petitioners that the Chancellor cannot issue a show cause notice is also left open and all the remedies of the petitioners to even impugn the same are left open," the court observed, according to a tweet by LiveLaw.

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