Wardha University: Bombay HC Declares Appointment of Vice-Chancellor Illegal

Several students had been expelled for protesting against the vice-chancellor during the Republic Day flag hoisting ceremony.
Students Protesting at the University gate
Students Protesting at the University gate

New Delhi: Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on March 28 declared the appointment of the vice chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (MGAHV) at Wardha in Maharashtra illegal.

Referring to a provision in Clause (7) of the varsity’s regulations with regard to appointment of vice chancellors that says in the absence of the pro-vice-chancellor, the most senior professor will assume the responsibilities of the vice-chancellor until a new appointment is made or the existing vice-chancellor resumes duty, as applicable, the court said, “In the current scenario, it is uncontested that there is no pro-vice-chancellor available to take on the duties of the vice-chancellor upon resignation. As per the regulation, it was incumbent upon the Hon’ble Visitor of MGAHV to appoint the most senior professor.”

The petitioner (Dr Lella Karunyakara) had contended before the court that the university administration, instead of appointing the most senior professor as the vice-chancellor, gave charge to someone who is not even associated with the MGAHV.

“Upon reviewing the language of the statute cited, it is unequivocally concluded that such a course of action is impermissible,” the court remarked, adding that “it is worth noting that Dr Bhimraya Metri, who has no affiliation with the MGAHV but serves as the director of IIM Nagpur, cannot, under any circumstance, fulfill the duties of the vice-chancellor on an interim basis, as per Statute 2(7)”.

Furthermore, the court also observed that the administration failed to provide a rationale for not assigning the responsibilities to the most senior professor. “If there were any obstacles, preventing the appointment of the most senior professor, it should have been explained why the duties were not entrusted to the next senior professor from the MGAHV,” stated the court.

Dr Karunyakara, a Dalit professor, was appointed as the vice-chancellor of the MGAHV after the resignation of Ravish Kumar Shukla on August 14, 2023.

However, after only two months, a new notice was issued, appointing Metri as the new vice-chancellor. He replaced Dr Karunyakara who had to approach the court against the blatant violation of the university statute.

The Mooknayak reached out to Professor Karunyakara who declined to comment at the moment, stating that the court order says it all.

Notably, the decision to replace the senior most professor of the university with an outsider had led to protests by students. Following continuous efforts by active student unions, including multiple letters to the administration and memorandums to the President, one of which explicitly warned against allowing an unauthorized individual to hoist the national flag during events, the administration took a different course of action.

Rather than addressing the concerns raised, the MGAHV administration reported to the police that the students were opposing the flag hoisting. Subsequently, during Republic Day celebrations, as the new vice-chancellor commenced speaking after the flag hoisting, two scholars unfurled black banners bearing the message “illegal VC go back”, resulting in their detention.

The duo — Rajesh Kumar Yadav and Niranjan Oberoi (both research scholars) — were later expelled. The administration also cancelled the admission of a postgraduate diploma student, Rajneesh Kumar Ambedkar. A total of three research scholars were expelled and two other students were suspended due to their participation in protests against the vice chancellor.

The administration defended its actions as necessary measures to uphold discipline and preserve an environment conducive to academic productivity.

It appears that the administration seized the opportunity to target other politically active students as well. Niranjan Oberoi had claimed, “I was not even present at the spot when the incident occurred, yet I received a notice of discontinuation. This action was taken because of my active involvement in campus politics, where I oppose any unconstitutional act.”

Despite a stay on the expulsions on February 16 by the High Court, they students have so far not been allowed to enter the university campus. Speaking to The Mooknayak, they said that due to the moral code of conduct, protests have been put on a hold for a while.

The administration has not yet issued any notice about his PhD programme. Oberoi has stated that he has filed a ‘contempt of court’ against the university now.

Vivek Mishra, another expelled student who was protesting for the last 50 days, reiterated the same. Even after the long demonstration and his deteriorating health, the administration has not put forward any discussion yet.

According to him, even his petition had caused the court to grill the administration and asked them for a response till 20th March, which they have not done yet. The next hearing on this matter will take place on April 18, 2024.

The Mooknayak has contacted the registrar of the university via email for a comment and will update the copy once a reply is received.

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