Kerala HC sets aside order against appointment of wife of CM’s secretary as professor in Kannur University

Annulling a single bench order, the court said Varghese's stints as PhD scholar and Director of Student Services was teaching experience.

ByK A Shaji

Published Jun 22, 2023 | 11:50 PMUpdatedJun 22, 2023 | 11:51 PM


In what will be counted as a victory for the ruling CPI(M)-led ruling LDF government in Kerala in its battle with state Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, a division bench of the Kerala High Court annulled an order of a single bench that said academic Priya Varghese lacked the University Grants Commission-mandated teaching experience to be appointed as an associate professor at Kannur University.

The appointment of Varghese, the wife of former CPI(M) member of the Rajya Sabha, KK Ragesh — currently the private secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan — had sparked a row between the government and Khan, who had dubbed the appointment as “political”.

The bench of Justice A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Mohammed Nias CP, on Thursday, 22 June, ruled in favour of Varghese, saying the time she had spent pursuing PhD and her stint as the Director of Student Services (DSS) could be added to her teaching experience.

On 17 November last year, a single bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran had ruled against Varghese, observing that her PhD period and the DSS stint could not be considered as part of her teaching experience.

The division bench said that merely because Varghese had pursued her PhD simultaneously with her teaching assignment, the research period cannot be discounted from her experience.

“Merely because the post of Director of Student Services/Programme Coordinator is classified as a non-teaching post in the recruitment rules of the University, it does not follow that the incumbent in the post does not gain ‘teaching experience’ in the broader sense of the term,” the bench observed.

Related: Court asks media to ‘adopt a code of responsible journalistic conduct’

Court concurs with state

The court also agreed with the state government’s stand not counting stints in these posts as teaching experience “would have disastrous consequences for the academic community in the state”, as no teacher would go on deputation to such positions for fear of losing out on career progression.

“We have also to remind ourselves, yet again, that when the University, which is an academic body, has chosen to treat the said experience of the teacher as ‘teaching experience’, then this court must defer to the wisdom of the academic body and refrain from interfering with the said decision unless it is shown to be opposed to the statutory provisions in vogue.” the bench said.

It also held that her eight months and 24 days spent as a lecturer at the Teacher Education Centre of Kannur University on an ad hoc/contract basis after attaining the NET qualification is also entitled to be reckoned towards teaching experience for the post in question.

The division bench verdict cokes as a relief for Varghese, whose proposed appointment had triggered a huge political row as she had the lowest research score but the highest in the interview round and was declared first in the selection process.

Related: Kannur University: No UGC guideline violated in Varghese appointment

All over scores

Varghese had scored 32 out of 50 in the personal interview, while the candidate who came second, Joseph Skaria, scored 30, a response to an RTI query revealed last year.

Skaria’s research score was 651, while Varghese’s was 156. However, she was ranked first based on the interview score.

As Chancellor of universities, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan had stayed her appointment and alleged that Kannur University’s move to appoint her was “political”.

“The appointment process appears to be a case of favouritism and nepotism. A person who is not qualified to be appointed as an assistant professor prima facie is appointed because she is the spouse of the secretary to the chief minister. This is political. There is absolutely no doubt,” Khan had said​.

The Save University Campaign Committee, a whistle-blower collective that mounts public opinion against nepotism in the higher education sector, said it would appeal against the division bench order, which violates UGC guidelines and allegedly encourages politically affluent people to usurp crucial positions.

Skaria, too, said he would consider challenging the order after consulting his lawyer.

(With PTI inputs)