Amid government-governor spat, Kerala HC cancels appointment of university VC
The Kerala High Court on Monday struck down the appointment of Dr. K Riji John as the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) vice-chancellor. This is a significant blow for the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government amid its rift with Governor Arif Mohammad Khan over state universities' operations. John was appointed the VC in December 2021 after a three-member search committee suggested his name.
Why does this story matter?
The development comes after Arif Mohammad Khan ordered the VCs of nine Kerala universities to resign in an unprecedented move in October. This followed the Supreme Court's move to revoke MS Rajasree's appointment as the vice-chancellor of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University in Thiruvananthapuram. In a statement, Khan alleged that the process to appoint these VCs had violated the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines.
Kerala governor to pick new VC
The HC also instructed the chancellor of universities, a post held by Khan, to initiate the selection process for a new vice-chancellor for KUFOS under the UGC guidelines. Working under the Ministry of Education, the UGC governs the functioning of higher education institutions across India.
John's appointment 'illegal': High court
The Kerala High Court called John's appointment as the KUFOS vice-chancellor "illegal" and added that University Grants Commission's guidelines were violated during the selection process. It also stated that just one name was sent to Kerala Governor Khan while it was mandatory to submit a list of at least three names to the chancellor, according to the rules of the UGC.
Kerala government's move to remove Khan as chancellor of universities
In a petition to the HC concerning John's appointment, CM Pinarayi Vijayan earlier claimed there was no academic expert in the search committee and nine candidates were short-listed after screening 17. However, only John's name was there when the panel submitted recommendations to Khan. Meanwhile, the Kerala cabinet last week voted to introduce an ordinance to remove the governor as the chancellor of universities.
Will refer ordinance to president: Khan
Responding to the cabinet's move to bring in the ordinance, Khan earlier said he would refer it to President Droupadi Murmu if the ordinance was sent to Raj Bhavan. "If I am the target, then I shall not be the judge. I will see it...if I come to the conclusion that the purpose is to target me, then I shall not sit in judgment."
Government wants to replace Khan with expert
The Kerala government reportedly wants to appoint an expert in the education sector as the next chancellor of universities, replacing Khan. Last Tuesday, the Kerala HC had also asked Khan not to take steps against the nine VCs until the court hears the matter.
Kerala government v/s Governor Khan
Khan's office had raised concerns over the appointment of VCs of nine Kerala universities. Notably, five of them were asked to resign by Khan as they were appointed without panel names during the selection process. The other four were picked through a process wherein eminent subject experts were not part of the selection committee and were thus asked to submit their resignations.
Reactions after Khan's notice to VCs
Khan's notice to the VCs triggered reactions across the state and even caught the Left Democratic Front (LDF) administration off-guard. The state government had even asked the VCs to disregard Khan's directives. On the other hand, ex-Kerala Education Minister ET Muhammad Basheer said the governor had exceeded his constitutional authority. However, United Democratic Front member VD Satheesan voiced his support for Khan last week.