Kerala VC appointment row: High Court extends deadline for responding to show-cause notice issued by Governor

Governor invokes gold smuggling case and targets CMO even as Raj Bhavan seeks legal advice on recovering the VCs' salaries.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 03, 2022 | 2:13 PMUpdatedNov 03, 2022 | 8:28 PM

Kerala Governor

The High Court of Kerala on Thursday, 3 November, granted seven vice-chancellors time till 5 pm on Monday, 7 November to file objections to the show-cause notices issued by Governor Arif Mohammad Khan.

The governor had earlier set a 5 pm, Thursday, 3 November, for the vice-chancellors to file their replies to the notice, demanding to show cause for allowing them to continue in office.

“I extend the timeframe for filing objections against impugned show-cause notices until 5 pm on 7/11/2022 and they will simultaneously be at liberty to ask for a personal hearing,” the Single Bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran ordered.

The court will take up the case for further hearing on Monday, 7 October.

Earlier, the governor, too, had granted the vice-chancellors time till Monday to request a personal hearing.

During the argument, the Bench gave the petitioners an opportunity to tell the Chancellor everything. “I don’t understand why everyone is presuming that the chancellor will only react in a particular matter”, Live Law reported, quoting the judge.

While considering the case, Justice Ramachandran also expressed concern over “this kind of environment. How will anyone study if this environment continues,” he wondered.

Governor welcomes VCs’ move

Governor Khan, earlier in the day, welcomed the vice-chancellors approaching the high court, questioning the governor’s authority to remove them from office.

“Let the court take action against me if I have erred,” he said in Delhi.

He said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan advised him to continue as Chancellor when he expressed readiness to step down. He also challenged the government to prove the allegation that he had appointed RSS nominees to the universities.

Khan said he would interfere in the gold smuggling case and initiate action if the involvement of anyone in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) is established.

Kerala University VC replies, others move court

Meanwhile, former vice-chancellor of the University of Kerala VP Mahadevan Pillai replied to the show-cause notice on Wednesday, 2 November. He said all norms were followed while appointing him and that he was qualified for the post.

Mohanan Kunnummal, Vice-Chancellor of the Kerala University of Health Sciences, has been given the additional charge of the Kerala university after Pillai’s retirement.

Meanwhile, seven vice-chancellors on Wednesday petitioned the high court seeking an order quashing the Governor’s show-cause notice against them continuing in office.

Seeking counter-petitions from the government and Raj Bhavan, Justice Ramachandran posted the case to Thursday.

High court raps Kerala Senate

The judge, however, made adverse comments against the vice-chancellors’ reluctance in replying to the Governor. The Bench also rapped the Kerala University Senate for not deputing its nominee to the Selection Committee that would decide on the next vice-chancellor.

On 25 October, the same judge had given temporary relief to the vice-chancellors. The court then allowed them to continue in service until removed, as per the law, by the Governor in his capacity as the Chancellor, based on their explanations in response to the show-cause notice.

Governor Khan on 23 October directed nine vice-chancellors to resign by 11.30 am the next day. The vice-chancellors, however, defied the order and approached the high court.

The Governor’s unprecedented move was based on a Supreme Court order that annulled the appointment of MS Rajashree as the vice-chancellor of the APJ Abdul Kalam Kerala Technological University.

The order cited that her appointment had violated the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines.

Related: Meet the man who unintentionally armed Governor Khan

Governor seeks legal advice

Governor Khan on Wednesday directed the Raj Bhavan to seek legal advice on recovering the salaries of all vice-chancellors who had not responded to the notice.

Raj Bhavan sources confirmed to South First that the Governor was infuriated by the vice-chancellors’ refusal to respond to the notices.

The Governor wanted legal clarity before initiating such a drastic step. Khan had already opined that the salary of those appointed to the top job in violation of relevant laws should be recovered.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan launched a scathing attack on the Governor while inaugurating a meeting on the fate of the higher education sector in the state organised by the ruling LDF on Wednesday.

He reminded the Governor of Kerala’s long history of resisting dictatorship and absolute power. Raj Bhavan sources said Khan would soon declare the appointments of the vice-chancellors illegal and void ab initio, citing the Supreme Court order and removing them from service.

Khan trying for a parallel government: Pinarayi

“Usually, governors keep away from active politics. Here, a person is trying to create a parallel government. He is convening press conferences at the Raj Bhavan, wants ministers sacked and dismisses senate and syndicate members”, Vijayan said.

“If someone thinks that all powers are concentrated in him, let him do so but only in his fantasies,” the chief minister added.

Vijayan said Khan should learn to differentiate his roles as the Governor and Chancellor.

“Only the Governor has the protection of the Constitution, not the Chancellor. A Chancellor has no special protection other than what emanates from university laws. The chancellor can use only those powers laid down in the university statutes, nothing more,” the chief minister said.

He added that the Governor’s role ended with the appointment of the vice-chancellor. “Once the appointment is made, the Chancellor has exhausted all his powers. He has no scope to intervene further,” he said. ‘

If any action has to be initiated against a vice-chancellor, the chief minister said it could be done only based on the existing university laws.

Meanwhile, the vice-chancellors argued in the high court that the notices lacked authority or jurisdiction.

Related: Historians slam Governor Khan for calling Kannur VC a criminal

Kannur VC justifies appointment

In his petition, Kannur University Vice-Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran submitted that he was holding the post after reappointment as per Section 10(10) of the Kannur University Act upon expiration of his original appointment on 23 November 2021.

He further submitted that when his reappointment had been challenged before a division bench of the Kerala High Court, the same had been upheld, and the matter is now pending before the apex court.

The petition also argued that the Chancellor, who is only a statutory authority, cannot adjudicate the legality or otherwise of the reappointment.

The same could only be decided based on adjudication by a competent court of law, the plea adds. Ravindran’s petition also stated that the Search Committee members, who had unanimously recommended his name, were persons of eminence and made the recommendation after identifying several persons following Section 10(5) of the Kannur University Act.

He further argued that there was a fundamental difference between the judgment in the KTU case and the instant case involving Kannur University.

“The first respondent has misdirected himself in understanding the law laid down by the Supreme Court,” the petition contends and prays that a writ of mandamus is issued commanding the Chancellor not to interfere with the functioning of the petitioner as vice-chancellor of Kannur University, other than under the provisions of the Kannur University Act and Rules.

Ravindran has also sought an interim stay on the show-cause notice issued to him during the pendency of his petition.

(The report has been updated based on the High Court order in the case).