Kerala HC allows nine VCs asked by Kerala Governor Khan to resign on Monday to continue in office

The court observed that no one could be forced to resign, even as Khan issued show cause notices against the nine VCs.

ByK A Shaji

Published Oct 24, 2022 | 8:50 PMUpdatedOct 26, 2022 | 3:33 PM


Vice-chancellors of nine universities in Kerala who asked to resign on Monday, October 24, by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, heaved a sigh of temporary relief by late evening when the Kerala High Court permitted them to continue in office for the time being.

The court, however, refrained from making any observations on the rights the Governor over the universities as their Chancellor.

In a special sitting held in the evening to hear the VCs who faced expulsion following the Governor’s directive, Justice Devan Ramachandran observed that all of them could continue in their respective positions till the Governor issued a final decision in his capacity as Chancellor of the universities.

The judge also made it clear that the Governor can take a final decision based on the replies he receives to the show-cause notices issued on Monday for ignoring the ultimatum to resign.

The Governor wanted all of them to resign by 11.30 am on Monday, but none of them tendered their resignations, and they collectively approached the court, terming the move of the Governor as a violation of their rights.

‘Nobody can be asked to resign’

Referring to the communication issued by the Governor on Sunday, 23 October, directing the VCs to resign by Monday morning, the Court expressed reservations and observed that “nobody can be asked to resign”.

Governor Khan

Governor Arif Mohammad Khan with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and former assembly speaker P Sreeramakrishnan. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

“It does not require much judgment to say no one can be asked to tender resignation,” observed the single judge bench.

Meanwhile, the bench noted that the Chancellor had issued show-cause notices to the petitioners on Monday and given them sufficient time to respond.

“This means that the relevance of the directions issued by the Governor on Sunday seems lost and that the vice-chancellors are still in service,” the court said.

Responding to arguments, the court also wondered how the Governor could have said that the VCs would cease to be in office with effect from 21 October if he believed that their appointments were void ab-initio.

The court added that proper enquiry and thought should have been invested, mainly when the petitioners had specific cases to their factual scenarios.

‘All contentions left open’

The court has left open all the contentions of the parties, including the argument that the Governor has no jurisdiction to initiate the action.

“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 is left open.” the court added.

“All contentions of parties are left open. Until Chancellor issues a final order, the petitioners will be eligible to continue in their positions, however, in full compliance with law and regulations. 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. I have not considered any of the contentions of the petitioners or the Chancellor concerning the competence of the latter,” said the judge.

Sunday’s unprecedented order

Late on Sunday, the Governor had instructed nine VCs to tender their resignations by 11.30 am on Monday because their appointments were illegal.

What prompted the move, which marked a major escalation in Governor Khan’s war with the ruling LDF in Kerala over his powers as Chancellor, was a recent verdict of the Supreme Court setting aside the appointment of Dr MS Rajashree as the VC of  the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University on the ground that the Search Committee forwarded only one name to the Chancellor instead of three to five names.

Quoting from that verdict, the Governor stated that the appointment of the VCs would be void-ab initio if the Search Committee were constituted illegally.

The Governor directed VCs Dr VP Mahadevan Pillai ( University of Kerala), Dr Sabu Thomas (Mahatma Gandhi University), Dr KN Madhusoodhanan (Cochin University of Science and Technology), Dr K Riji John (Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies), Dr Gopinath Ravindran (Kannur University), Dr MS Rajashree (APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University), Dr MV Narayanan (Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit), Dr MK Jayaraj (Calicut University) and  Dr V Anil Kumar (Thuncahthezhuthachan Malayalam University) to resign as their appointments were said to be violative of UGC norms.

Lawyers representing the VCs argued that the Chancellor has no statutory power to direct the resignation of the vice-chancellors. The Chancellor cannot act beyond the powers conferred on him by the relevant University Acts, they said.

Vijayan launches counter-attack

At a press conference in Palakkad on Monday morning, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came down heavily on Governor Khan’s directive, terming it as anti-constitutional and anti-democratic.


Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Governor Arif Muhammad Khan. (KB Jayachandran/South First)

He has also questioned the urgency and the enthusiasm behind the directive.

“There is no doubt that Khan is acting at the behest of the BJP and the RSS to create a constitutional crisis in Kerala. Khan is misusing the apex court’s complete order in the technology university issue to interfere in the matters of other universities in the state,” he charged.

“Anyone with basic common sense can understand that a court’s verdict applies to that particular case. It must not be applied to curtail the functioning of other universities,” Vijayan said.

“The Governor should remember that, as Chancellor of state universities, he too played a role in appointing the vice-chancellors. If it is found that rules are flouted, then he is also to be blamed. In any case, the matter of Technological University should not impede on other universities,” Vijayan said.

Vijayan also pointed out that the apex court had not said MS Rajashree was not academically fit to hold such a position.

“The court has only said there were some irregularities in the appointment process. There is time still to rectify that,” Vijayan said.

“Governor Khan must know better than to wield the court’s order to attack our universities and, by extension, the government. He must also remember that this LDF government is a democratically-elected one. His unwanted barrage against the government will be met with equal measures,” Vijayan warned.

History of discord

The Governor and the ruling LDF have been at loggerheads for some time now, especially over what the latter says is Khan’s interference in appointments to universities that come under the state’s Higher Education Department.

Khan, as Governor, is Chancellor of all the state universities.

The beginnings of the animosity can be traced to the inaugural ceremony of the Indian History Congress held in Kannur University on 28 December, 2019, where Khan was heckled for towing the Centre’s line on the controversial CAA and NRC.

Khan’s prime target was Vijayan’s private secretary former Rajya Sabha member KK Ragesh who, he alleged, was part of a larger conspiracy to intimidate him at the Indian History Congress.

It may be recalled that the current tussle between the government and the Governor began when the Kannur University attempted to appoint Ragesh’s wife, Priya Varghese, as an associate professor in the Malayalam Department. Using his position as Chancellor of the university, the Governor declared the appointment null and void.

An amended law

In response, the Kerala Assembly in September called a special session to amend a law and curb Khan’s powers as Chancellor of universities in the state.

Khan has clearly said there would not be any gubernatorial endorsement of the legislation.

(With inputs from Sreerag PS)