Kerala HC gives interim relief to vice-chancellors asked to quit by governor

In an interim order, the Kerala High Court on Monday allowed nine university vice-chancellors to continue in office until Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who had earlier asked them to quit, took a final decision.

Khan, as chancellor of the nine universities, earlier in the day served showcause notices to the vice-chancellors on their right to remain in office.  The notices, returnable by November 3, were served after the vice-chancellors refused to resign in response to his Sunday directive.

The governor sought their resignations relying on the Supreme Court’s October 21 verdict holding that the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University vice-chancellor’s appointment had flouted the University Grants Commission norms and was therefore illegal. The vice-chancellor is among the nine asked to quit by the governor.

As the governor wanted them to resign by 11 am on Monday, the vice-chancellors moved the high court, which had a special sitting in the evening.

Justice Devan Ramachandran took exception to Khan’s showcause notices, saying that he had served them after asking the vice-chancellors to put in their papers. The vice-chancellors argued they were denied natural justice as they had not been heard before being asked to quit.

Granting interim relief to the vice-chancellors, the court noted that as the governor had served the notices to them, his letters seeking their resignation had become irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the war of words continued between the governor and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the former’s unprecedented move. “If the governor has found the appointment of the nine V-Cs to be illegal, he is responsible for that. The governor is the appointing authority of V-Cs. He is responsible if the appointments are illegal. Let the governor think who should quit, whether he or the V-Cs. The governor is acting at the behest of the Sangh Parivar. He is acting with a destructive mentality,” Vijayan said addressing the media in Palakkad in the morning.

Vijayan said the office of the governor was not meant to exert pressure on the government. “He (Khan) is abusing the office of the governor. It is unconstitutional and against the essence of democracy. His directive to V-Cs is an encroachment on the academic freedom of the universities and the powers of a democratically elected government. Do not think that you can exercise the powers that you do not actually have. It is equal to the foolishness of a lizard that thinks it is holding up the ceiling. The governor should understand the limitations of his powers, which are remnants of the colonial era.’’

Referring to the LDF’s proposed agitation in front of the Raj Bhavan on November 15, Vijayan warned that “when things unbecoming of the constitutional body are done, protests would emerge. That has to be faced,” he said.

For his part, Khan stuck to his stand. He told the media that the Supreme Court verdict was very clear and that nobody would be exempted from its purview. He said he had served the notices as the vice-chancellors had refused to resign.

“I have given them an opportunity to quit the office in a dignified manner. They don’t listen to the chancellor. They are listening to the LDF. Let them go to the Supreme Court with a review petition. Under-qualified persons are appointed only because they belong to the party cadre,’’ said Khan.

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