HC Admits JNUTA Petition, Steps in to Curb Abbrogation of Powers by VC

A Writ Petition filed by five senior teachers of the university — Prof. Bishnupriya Dutt, Prof. Jayati Ghosh, Prof. Ravi Srivastava, Prof. G. Arunima, and Prof. Ranjani Mazumdar — against Jawaharlal Nehru University has been admitted by the High Court of Delhi today.

The subject of the writ petition is simple: Statute 27(2) of of the Second Schedule of the JNU Act specifies the composition of Selection Committees for faculty appointments, and prescribes a well defined process for nomination of experts to Selection Committees: quite unambiguously, the VC has the power only to nominate experts to the Selection Committees from the database of the panel of names already approved by the relevant statutory bodies of the University. He does not have the power to make additions (or deletions) to that database, or to invite persons from outside it. This statute was laid down in 2012, with the approval of the Hon. President of India in his capacity as Visitor, pursuant to the UGC Regulations 2010 regarding Selection Committees, and has been the basis on which scores of appointments have been made in the University.

In egregious violations of all norms, the minutes of the 141st and 142nd meetings of the Academic Council were falsified to indicate that the Academic Council had authorised the Vice-Chancellor “to finalise” the panel of experts submitted by various Centres and ratified by the AC. In the 166th Executive Council meeting, this decision was approved, despite members’ fierce objections that no such decision had been taken by the AC, with the power now additionally being sourced to an EC Resolution of 1997.

Despite sustained protest and objections by AC and Ec members and by JNUTA, the VC has not yielded on this shocking and unlawful arrogation of power, because with it, he can stack the quorum of the Selection Committee, which rests at only four. That this will potentially have disastrous consequences for the standards and quality of education in JNU is obvious, as however wise a VC may be, he is not omniscient (despite all the surveillance videos he may have access to), and cannot have the knowledge of all disciplines, subjects, specialisations, etc., that the university teaches and researches in.

JNU teachers have had to approach the courts challenging this perversion of the JNU Act, because all our efforts to persuade the VC to return to the path of probity and righteous conduct have failed. The teachers’ counsel argued that reliance on a 1997 EC resolution, after the statute had been amended in 2012 removing all discretionary power, was bad in law. Moreover, by the JNU Act, only the AC has the power to determine (by ratification of the recommendations sent in by Schools and Centres) the list of experts for Selection Committees, so that even if the AC had decided to delegate this power to the VC, this decision cannot be sustained, as it would be a violation of the Act itself.

Without any legal arguments to challenge what is obviously a sound legal position,  JNU’s counsel Aman Lekhi chose to indulge in an abusive tirade against all JNU teachers in open court, accusing them of frivolous litigation, not doing their jobs of educating students, and indulging in activities that bring disrepute to it. Though the JNUTA is content with the fact that the court was not swayed by this unseemly tirade and has accepted the petition, listing it for a date in July as soon as the court reopens, it does however issue a stern warning to the University administration that it will not tolerate such horrific performances of incivility and insult.

The litigants in the instant case are some of the most reputed scholars and dedicated teachers, besides being experienced administrators. They have stepped up to rescue the JNU Act from the cannibalisation that the Vice-Chancellor and his team, particularly the Registrar, are subjecting it to. All of JNU, and not only its teachers, stand with them, and not with those for whom perjury, intimidation, and contempt for due process is not only the mode, but the raison d’être, of existence. 

The JNUTA was hoping for an early date in May itself for a hearing for this petition so that the VC would be restrained from tampering with the composition of selection committees for the recently advertised 98 positions to JNU (and the 200 odd to come). While we can, and do, hope that the VC will recognise that the matter is sub judice, and that therefore he is morally enjoined to make selections only from the approved database, past experience suggests that such hope may be misplaced. We request all colleagues, the media, and friends of JNU to therefore give wide publicity to the existence of this petition.

Counsels Vrinda Grover, Ratna Appender and Parijata Bharadwaj appeared for the Petitioners, and JNU was represented by Aman Lekhi and a team of associates.

(The press release has been issued by Ayesha Kidwai, President and Pradeep Shinde Vice-President of JNUTA)

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