Visva Bharti University: Calcutta HC stays termination order against VBUFA president

The court has asked the university to submit an affidavit in the matter within seven days. The case will be taken up for hearing next on January 31
Visva-Bharati University (Pic: EdexLive)
Visva-Bharati University (Pic: EdexLive)

The Calcutta High Court has ordered a stay on the notice of the proposed termination of Prof Sudipta Bhattacharya of the Visva Bharti University (VBU) in West Bengal, by the varsity administration.

In his statement, Justice Kaushik Chanda of the Calcutta High Court registered his "dissatisfaction" with regard to the letter issued by the Registrar of Visva-Bharati on December 22, informing Prof Bhattacharya of the resolution by the Executive Council of the varsity to terminate his services. The letter, along with notices of suspension issued to six students of the university is being challenged in the High Court. 

"Prima facie, It appears that though the petitioner is a permanent ‘Adhyapak’, the University sought to throw him out by termination of his service following the decision of the Executive Council taken completely behind his back levelling various stigmatic aspersions against him," said Justice Chanda in his statement.

The Calcutta High Court has now asked the VBU administration to submit an affidavit in the matter within seven days and has asked the counsel for Prof Bhattacharya to respond to the administration's affidavit in two days. The matter has now been listed for hearing on January 31 and Justice Chanda meanwhile expressed hope that the university will not take any further steps against the petitioner

Why was the letter issued?
Prof Bhattacharya is the President of the VBU Faculty Association (VBUFA) and he was issued the notice after indefinite sit-in protests ensued outside the residence of the Vice-Chancellor of VBU, Bidyut Chakraborty. Students and faculty have been demanding his removal from the post for his "vindictive" actions against students and members of the faculty, which, sources from the university claim, have impacted the quality of education. 

The proposal for the suspension of Prof Bhattacharya preceded any initiative of an official inquiry into the matter. Following the letter of his proposed termination, numerous emeritus academicians from India and abroad, including Noam Chomsky, wrote a letter to President Draupadi Murmu against the decision of the VBU administration. Support has also poured in for the professor from faculty organisations of other universities such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Student Federation of India (SFI), Presidency University Students' Union (PUSU), All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisations (AIFUCTO), Kalyani University Teachers' Association (KUTA) and West Bengal College and University Teachers' Association (WBCUTA). 

Conflict with the VC
Court cases registered back and forth between the administration and the students and faculty have become a norm at VBU. Prof Kausik Bhattacharya, a member of the VBUFA told EdexLive that more than 100 cases have been filed during Bidyut Chakraborty's tenure which began in 2018. "This proves that there is something wrong with the attitude of the VBU administration regarding employees and students. In a majority of these cases, the interim order, or the final order has gone against the administration," Prof Bhattacharya adds. 

From the suspension of Prof Manoj Maity, who was associated with a project at the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), to the more recent criminal case filed against three professors, including Prof Kausik, and a few students, the court has forced the administration to revoke its decision. There is also the case of student Somenath Shaw, who was rusticated for posting a morphed image of the VC's head on a monkey's torso on Facebook. Shaw challenged his rustication in the high court, after which, the court ordered the university to reinstate the student following the submission of an apology. According to sources, despite Shaw having submitted the apology twice, the VBU administration has not followed the court's directions to reinstate him.

Impact on quality of education
Prof Kausik claims that the actions of the administration are having an adverse impact on the development of academic activities on campus. "The situation is dire. Our ranking at the NIRF dropped from 18 to 98 this year. In the more recent round of NAAC grading in 2022, we get only a B+. While teachers and students are being sincere in their efforts such incidents will impact students after they leave the university and look for employment opportunities," Prof Kausik notes. The VBUFA, for its part, has written several representations to the Prime Minister's Office and the Union Ministry of Education, demanding the removal of Chakraborty from his post, but has not received any response, claims Prof Kausik.

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