Setback to LDF: Kerala HC quashes appointment of wife of CM’s private secretary as associate professor

HC directs university to relook at appointment process as per UGC guidelines and decide if she can continue in the rank list.

ByK A Shaji

Published Nov 17, 2022 | 9:29 PMUpdatedNov 17, 2022 | 9:29 PM

Pinarayi Vijayan

In a setback to Kerala’s ruling LDF, the state high court on Thursday, November 17, quashed the appointment of Priya Varghese as associate professor in the Malayalam Department of Kannur University.

Priya Varghese is the wife of former Rajya Sabha member KK Ragesh, now a State Committee member of the CPI(M), the biggest constituent of the LDF, and private secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

In a hard-hitting verdict, Justice Devan Ramachandran ruled that Priya does not have “enough credit” to her name to have been appointed ahead of professors with more experience.

Ruling that no university is above the rules set by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the court directed the Kannur University to thoroughly re-examine of the appointment process, which was allegedly fudged to make her the front-runner.

The court order comes hardly a week after another bench of the high court quashed the appointment of Dr K Riji John as vice-chancellor of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS).

The court observed that UGC norms were violated in the appointment. Vice-chancellors of technology universities and veterinary universities have recently lost their positions on charges of nepotism and violation of applicable UGC norms.

Governor’s stand vindicated

The court’s actions validate the stand of Governor Arif Mohammad Khan that no vice-chancellor of state universities in Kerala can continue in office as their appointments were made disregarding UGC rules.


Priya Varghese’s appointment in Kannur University has led to an open clash between the LDF government and Governor Khan. (Supplied)

The ongoing rift between the Governor and the state government had started over Priya Varghese’s appointment. The latest court ruling would further equip the Governor to fight the state government’s recent decisions concerning appointments in the higher education sector.

The replies the vice-chancellors gave to show cause notices issued by the Governor are now pending examination with Khan, and a final decision would be taken soon.

The high court’s observation that UGC rules are final in the case of universities would also influence the future course of action of the Governor.

As the cases filed by the vice-chancellors against the Governor are also pending for final verdict before Devan Narayanan, the verdict in the case of Priya will have further ramifications.

Related: Governor Khan removed as chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam

What the court did

Allowing the plea challenging the selection of Priya, the court directed the university to reconsider her credentials and decide whether she should continue on the rank list.

“Once a detailed enquiry is completed, and the rank list is sufficiently modified, further action to make an appointment can be taken forward,” the court said.

According to legal experts, the court has in effect asked the vice-chancellor and the University Senate to correct their mistakes in choosing Varghese as associate professor.

Allowing the writ petition filed by the candidate who came second in the recruitment process, Justice Ramachandran observed that “teaching experience can only be a real fact and not a fiction or an inference”.

“Unless a candidate can show real experience in teaching, as required by the UGC Regulations 2018, they could not have had their applications approved by the Scrutiny Committee of the university, which is also a statutory one.

“In the case at hand, the Scrutiny Committee proceeded on certain assumptions they thought to be true, particularly concerning the periods of service claimed by the 5th respondent (Varghese) while engaged in full-time research and discharging duties as Director of Student Services and coordinator of the National Services Scheme.

“Certainly, such activities would promote the growth of a person as a good teacher, but more is needed in the absence of requisite teaching experience. The judge requires an apt mix of both so that a teacher can guide their students,” said the judge.

The petitioner’s arguments

The petitioner had wanted a directive to Kannur University and its Selection Committee to rework the rank list for the associate professor’s post at the Department of Malayalam, after removing Priya Varghese.

The petitioner also argued that Varghese was not qualified enough to be called for the interview as she did not have the requisite teaching experience. However, she was interviewed, and the Selection Committee placed her first in the rank list.

When the matter was taken up previously, the petitioner asserted that Varghese was not eligible to be appointed as an associate professor per the statute of Kannur University and regulations of the UGC.

Staying Varghese’s appointment, the court ordered no appointments to be made from the rank list, mainly because it has been shown only as a “provisional” one.

The Court subsequently extended the stay order.

Related: The man who unintentionally armed Governor Khan

Thiruvananthapuram-based Save University Campaign Committee (SUCC), which had first approached the Governor against Varghese’s appointment, said she 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 chaired by the vice-chancellor.

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