Interview | Dr P S Sreejith feels vindicated as legal fight now rattles govt, varsities

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan; Dr P S Sreejith. Photo: Manorama Online Image Creative

It is for the first time in the history of Kerala that the resignation of nine Vice-Chancellors (VCs) has been sought by the Governor. The unparalleled lone legal fight undertaken by Dr P S Sreejith, former Dean of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat) and current Principal of the Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology, has led to this unusual step.

The Supreme Court annulled the appointment of APJ Abdul Kalam Kerala Technological University (KTU) Vice-Chancellor M S Rajasree at the culmination of this legal fight. It is also the first instance in the state that the appointment of a VC has become void following a court verdict.

The legal fight that Sreejith started in the High Court against the appointment of the VC of the tech varsity has ended up with his resounding triumph in the Supreme Court.

Dr Sreejith shares his thoughts with ‘Manorama Online Premium’ in light of the unusual order by the Governor, following the Supreme Court judgment.

This verdict could be termed historical. What were the circumstances that led to this legal fight?

I saw applications being invited for the post of KTU VC while I was serving Cusat as dean in 2018. I also applied for it. I was shortlisted and called for an interview. They cancelled it for the first time, and then the interview was postponed. I was called again, but the interview was put off then too. I came to know that the search committee at that time was dissolved. Then a new notification was issued, forming a new search committee. The proceedings were started from scratch again.

I applied yet again. This time, they didn’t consider me at all. Later I came to know about the appointment of M S Rajasree as KTU Vice-Chancellor in February 2019 from the newspapers. I understood that they deliberately ignored me. Because if they had shortlisted me in the first notification, it is only natural that I should be considered in the second one as well. Not only me but some others on the first list too were ignored. Later, I filed a number of RTI applications regarding this. But I didn’t receive any replies for many of them. Though I asked about the first search committee and the marks awarded by them, I was denied information citing different reasons.

How you approached the High Court?

While filing the RTI application, I shared the matter with friend advocate Syam Krishnan. I could understand by then that though the rules stipulate that the search committee has to give a panel comprising not less than three names to the Chancellor for an appointment to the post of Vice-Chancellor, it had given only one name. I read and thoroughly understood what the UGC rules stipulate. I could understand the condition that the search committee should have Higher Education sector experts also was not complied with.

The three-member search committee had the Chief Secretary on board. Under such circumstances, the government's interest can come into play in making the decision. We decided to raise these two as the main arguments. Though a petition was filed with the Single Bench of the Kerala High Court in 2019, the court ordered that the appointment made as per the University rules was not illegal. My petition was rejected. Though the Division Bench was approached, it too rejected my petition citing the same reasons.

On your move to the Supreme Court.

With the two Benches of the Kerala High Court rejecting my petition, I was not inclined to go to the Supreme Court. However, my advocate prompted me. He said we possessed very strong points and hence we should approach the apex court. Thus, we moved the Supreme Court early this year. Three friends of Syam Krishnan argued the case there.

You must have undertaken a lot of research for the case.

I sourced the UGC rules from the internet. Several applications were filed under the RTI Act later and the information thus received was handed over to the advocates. That was how I sourced the bio-data of M S Rajasree and several other details. And I was convinced that I possessed no less qualifications. Though I applied to know the marks, I didn’t receive any reply.

However, I came to know that in the first list I was the frontrunner. I am not for any debate or argument over it. The recent Supreme Court verdicts with regard to West Bengal and Gujarat Governments became quite helpful in this verdict. These cases were also referred to in the SC order in my case.

While raising the pane and search committee-related matters, did you ever think it will have such far-reaching consequences?

To speak the truth, no. I had heard that in many other universities, a single person’s name was forwarded instead of a panel. But I was not bothered much about those. My only goal was to fight my case. They were deliberately sidelining me. The number of research papers and my PhD made me well-qualified for the VC post. I still believe my bio-data was among the best.

I was much pained when they neglected me despite all these. That was my only issue. I felt I should react to this. In our land, only a minimum qualification is needed for appointment to posts related to government. It is extremely sad the present system does not consider those having the maximum qualifications.

Did anybody persuade you to back out of the legal battle at some point in time?

Never. No one thought I will go to such an extent to fight my case out. Many thought I won’t be proceeding further when the High Court rejected the petition. They even realized I had moved the Supreme Court only when the apex court judgment in the case appeared in newspapers and my name was mentioned in them.

You are behind the verdict having such far-reaching consequences in the history of the state. How do you feel?

I never thought it will have a such big impact. I had no idea the verdict in the case will affect these many vice-chancellors. Even, I learned about the same only when I watched the TV yesterday evening. To say the truth, I’m much surprised. Now a large section knows me without my becoming a VC; perhaps more than that if I had ascended to the post.

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