Kerala: Blow to LDF as Gov freezes appointment as associate professor of wife of CM’s private secretary

Gov Arif Muhammed Khan says he will not allow any violation of the law as long as he has the powers to prevent them.

ByK A Shaji

Published Aug 17, 2022 | 9:17 PMUpdatedAug 17, 2022 | 9:17 PM

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan. (South First)

A fresh salvo was fired on Wednesday, 17 August, in the ongoing battle between Governor Arif Muhammad Khan and Kerala’s ruling LDF, with Khan freezing the appointment of Priya Varghese as an associate professor in Kannur University.

Varghese is the wife of former Rajya Sabha member KK Ragesh, who also happens to be the private secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The move comes a day after the state Cabinet approved a bill seeking to clip the wings of the Governor as Chancellor of universities, especially in recruitments and choice of vice-chancellors.

In his order, Khan said he was staying “all further proceedings pursuant to the selection procedure for appointment of associate professor” in the Malayalam Department of Kannur University, with “immediate effect until further orders”.


Priya Varghese. (Supplied)

In effect, Khan rejected Kannur University Vice Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran’s clarification that there were no irregularities in the selection of Varghese, and that the University Syndicate had acted appropriately and within its powers.

Khan invoked provisions in the Kannur University Act of 1996 in issuing the order. He also issued show-cause notices “to all stakeholders” associated with the selection process.

Governor acts on 9-month-old complaint

Interestingly, the Governor acted on a complaint filed some nine months back by the Thiruvananthapuram-based Save University Campaign Committee (SUCC), which alleged that Varghese had obtained the worst research score among all the six applicants shortlisted for the post in the Malayalam Department.

SUCC alleged that Varghese came first in the rank list after the final interview conducted by a committee constituted by the LDF-controlled University Syndicate that is chaired by the vice-chancellor.

It also shared documentary evidence of the irregularities with the Governor after sourcing them through an RTI enquiry.

The bill seeking to clip the wings of the Governor as Chancellor of universities has provisions that would take away the existing powers of the Governor to decide on the appointment of vice-chancellors in state universities.

The bill proposed the reconstitution of vice-chancellor search committees in a manner in which the state government retains the upper hand. The Governor’s role would be reduced to a mere approver when the bill becomes law.

On the Cabinet’s decision, Khan said: “A bill becomes a law only after the Governor signs it.”

Bill limiting Governor’s powers

The proposed bill will be tabled in the coming Assembly session which is scheduled to start on August 22.

Earlier, a government-appointed commission headed by NK Jayakumar, former vice-chancellor of the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, had made recommendations to ensure that the Governor, as Chancellor, does not play an overarching role in state universities.

Sources told South First, said the bill aims to amend university rules to increase the number of members in the search-cum-selection committee from three to five.

Currently, the committee has a representative each of the Chancellor, the UGC, and the varsity. It submits a panel of names jointly or separately to the Chancellor, who will then make the final selection.

In the proposed bill, the committee will also have a government representative and the Kerala State Higher Education Council vice-chairperson. With three of the five members in the panel likely to adopt a pro-government stance, the UGC nominee and the Chancellor’s nominee would be reduced to mere spectators.

“As long as the powers are with me, I will not allow any violation of the law,” Khan told media persons on Wednesday morning, before taking action against Varghese.

Varghese defends herself

Meanwhile, Varghese has alleged a witch-hunt by the media.

She claimed in a Facebook post that those who have been criticising her selection did not have the slightest knowledge of the university’s selection process.

She also rejected the documents released by the SUCC that revealed that she had the lowest research score among the shortlisted candidates.

She alleged that those who have come up with the revelations had conveniently stepped back from their earlier allegations regarding her teaching experience.

Varghese was an assistant professor at Kerala Varma College in Thrissur, and she currently works at the Kerala Institute of Languages in Thiruvananthapuram as deputy director.