Congress claims poll code violation as Union Education Ministry appoints UGC members

The party asked the ECI to take action because the appointments were made in April, while vacancies existed since at least August last year.

BySouth First Desk

Published Apr 22, 2024 | 9:13 PMUpdatedApr 22, 2024 | 9:53 PM

The UGC members before the four fresh appointments.

Congress has urged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take immediate action over the recent appointment of four members to the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The party said the appointments were made when the Model Code of Conduct were in place and therefore violated the poll code.

The letter, dated Thursday, 18 April, raised questions about the timing of the appointments to the statutory body for higher education in India.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in the letter: “We hope the commission treats this matter with the attention that it deserves and initiates immediate action to take the issue forward.”

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The appointments

Surjewala noted in his letter to the ECI that the Department of Higher Education under the Union Ministry of Education made the appointments through an order issued on 10 April.

Exercising its powers under the UGC Act of 1956, the department appointed new members to the statutory body for a term of three years, he pointed out.

He identified the new members as:

  • Prof (retd) Sachidananda Mohanty, former vice-chancellor of the Central University of Odisha
  • Prof Shashikala Gulabrao Wanjari, vice-chancellor of the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi
  • Ashish Kumar Chauhan, chancellor of the University of Allahabad and MD and CEO of the National Stock Exchange, Mumbai, and
  • Sridhar Vembu, CEO and founder of Zoho Corporation

Surjewala noted that the UGC Act says the statutory body can have as many as 10 members. They, he pointed out, included the UGC chairperson and vice-chairperson.

He added that the UGC has had only four members since August last year.

The Congress spokesperson also said in the letter: “There is no doubt that the ministry would be well within its powers in making the above-made appointments to the UGC. However, these appointments have been made on the heels of the 18th Lok Sabha elections.”

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Alleged poll code violations

Surjewala noted in his letter that given that the vacancies existed since at least August 2023 at the very least, “the issue of the timing of the present appointments raises serious doubts and

Therefore, the issue of the appointments being made at this time required “immediate intervention” by the ECI, he added.

He also said in the letter that Clause IV of the MCC “explicitly bars ministries from making ad-hoc appointments during the election period”, recognising the propensity of their abuse by incumbent governments.

The Congress spokesperson sought to further buttress the point by citing the ECI’s earlier actions on similar matters.

He said in the letter: “Further, as per the Election Commission’s Letter No 464/INST/2007-PLN-I dated 07 January, 2007, no appointments or promotions in government undertakings could be made without prior clearance of the commission during the election period.”

Speaking on behalf of Congress, he also said: “It is our respectful submission that the commission cannot allow such instances of blatant violations of the MCC to go unchecked.”