Setback for Govt: Ciza Thomas to continue as tech varsity acting VC

The Court said that the Governor, who is also the Chancellor of the university, should function as per the rules of the University Grants Commission (UGC), and that the government's plea is an unprecedented move. Photo: E V Sreekumar.

The Kerala Government on Tuesday suffered yet another setback after the High Court dismissed its plea questioning the appointment of Dr Ciza Thomas as acting vice-chancellor (VC) of A P J Abdul Kalam Technological University.

Though the bench headed by Justice Devan Ramachandran found merit in the government's plea, it decided to let Ciza continue as the VC in charge of the varsity.

According to Live Law, Justice Devan Ramachandran observed that there was no doubt that Thomas was fully qualified going by the UGC Regulations, since it permits experience in both teaching and research, and since she was working as the Senior Joint Director in Directorate of Technical Education, the choice was justified.

As regards the dispute in her seniority, the Court found that excluding the earlier VC, she was ranked 9th in the list of persons found eligible.

It observed that although the first person found qualified had been offered by the Chancellor, the same was politely refused, and considering that the others in the list were already occupied in other posts at other places, and she was the only person in Thiruvananthapuram, the said justification was compelling.

The matter comes in light of the Apex Court decision in Dr. Sreejith PS v. Dr. Rajasree M.S. dated 21.10.2022, declaring the appointment of the incumbent VC Dr MS Rajasree had no legal effect from the beginning, holding that she had been appointed contrary to UGC Regulations.

In the plea filed through Senior Government Pleader V. Manu, it was argued by the State that Thomas's appointment by the Chancellor is not in conformity with the provisions of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University Act, 2015.

The State had argued that only the Vice Chancellor of any other University or the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university, or the secretary to the government higher education department, as recommended by the government, could be appointed as the VC to hold office till a regular VC is selected.

On behalf of the Chancellor, Senior Counsel Gopakumaran Nair, argued that Section 13(7) of the Act operates in violation of UGC Regulations 2018, and is an affront to the declaration of Apex Court. Even assuming Section 13(7), he added that when the Government made the first recommendation, the Chancellor responded to it saying the said person and many other VCs also suffered from the same infirmity, which was accepted by the Government.

Thereafter, the Government proposed the Secretary to Government, Higher Education, as the new VC, which was also rejected by the Chancellors office, but not officially intimated for the reason that a bureaucrat and non-academician being posted as VC was against the spirit of the UGC norms and the Apex Court verdict.

Senior Counsel Gopakumaran Nair further submitted that the Government was attempting to make aspersions on the intentions of the Chancellor when the truth remained that he had no other option but to find a suitable person with all requisite qualifications as per UGC Regulations in the interregnum.

He added that this arrangement was only a temporary one, and a new VC could be appointed without any delay with the cooperation of the University.

The Standing Counsel of the University Advocate Elvin Peter PJ submitted that University would abide by any decision of the Court.

On the aspect of maintainability, the Court found in favour of the Government that the act of the Chancellor was in contravention of the statutory scheme.

It observed that although the Governor acts as the Chancellor, he acts in accordance with the statutory provisions in the latter capacity, thus being amenable to writ jurisdiction.

The Court thereon perused Section 13(7) of the Act and Regulation 7.3 of the UGC Regulations. The Court noted that even the Government impelled no contrary case that at least 4 judgments of the Apex Court had laid down that the VC is to be appointed by Chancellor in implicit compliance of UGC Regulations.

"The responsibility of Chancellor to act in conformity of law is now far more", the Court observed.

The Court observed that the Chancellor could thus, only make appointment in accordance with Section 13(7) of the Act.

When a temporary vacancy arises in office of VC, the Chancellor, on the recommendation of Government must appoint one among 3 choices: A. VC of another University in Kerala; B. ProVC of same University or C. the Principal Secretary.

However, the Chancellor asserted herein that the same could not be done.

The Court found that the view of the UGC regarding its Regulations was binding on the Court, it being the author of the same, and hence found merit in the opinion that the VC even for a day had to satisfy the requirement

As regards the question as to whether the Chancellor was obliged to consult the Government again and again, the Court observed that, "surely it would have been in interest of comity between two high functionaries that Chancellor reply to Government before appointing Thomas". Section 17(3) of Act allows Government to recommend only one among 3 choices therein and no other, and when all the choices were rendered untenable, and when it became impossible for Government to make further recommendation, a further deliberation would have been a futility. "Should the Chancellor have left the post to be unfilled? Certainly not!", noted the Court.

The Court thus found that if Thomas was indeed found to be qualified in accordance with UGC Regulations, no fault could be found on the part of the Chancellor in appointing her in the interregnum period.

(With inputs from Live Law)

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