Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan last week urged the vice chancellors of several universities in the state to leave office, unleashing a political storm. The governor, who is the chancellor of the universities, made his decision based on a Supreme Court ruling quashing the appointment of the VC of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University for being inconsistent with UGC standards.
Amid mounting criticism of his decision by the state government and the VCs who failed to tender their resignations by 11:30 a.m. Monday as proposed, the governor released their statements on the cause of the case, requesting their response by Nov. 3.
“They have every right to say what they want, but what I do, I have made it clear that the honorable Supreme Court in its judgment has clearly established the law, if the selection committee does not meet the requirements of the UGC regulation and a nomination was made based on their recommendation, the words the honorable Supreme Court used are, it will be deemed null and void from the start,” he told CNN-News18 in an exclusive interview. “From day one, they have been illegal residents of the office. The second ground they have given is that the UGC regulations require to create a panel of 3-5 names. If one name has been passed to the chancellor and an appointment of that person is made, that too is considered null and void. So all I do is apply the law as adopted by the honorable High Council of the Technical University to all universities.”
After the Supreme Court ruling, there is no escape route, according to the governor. “So they are willing to say what they want because they have been using the universities for their own political aid for a long time. A recent example where an underqualified person, a relative of the Prime Minister’s Political Secretary, was to be appointed, in fact the Vice Chancellor had said we will issue the nomination order tomorrow, so I stuck with that. Not only did I uphold that, because my order had not yet reached the university, but the honorable court also upheld that order, that appointment. Why did they twist the law? Why have they resorted to this practice?” he said.
The governor said he had tried to give the vice chancellors an honorable departure. “Every newspaper has brought this news that the LDF has ordered the vice chancellors to disregard my letter. So they did not resign and I have told them that I will wait until 11:30 am and then take any legal action necessary to uphold the Supreme Court verdict. After 11:30 a.m. notices on the cause of the case have been issued and the case has gone to the Supreme Court, and the HC has clearly said that the power lies with the chancellor,” Khan said.
He also clarified that he has not fired a single vice-chancellor. “I suggested to them that in light of the Supreme Court decision, it would be best if they resign. I haven’t fired a single vice chancellor. I haven’t found a flaw in any of them. I just said to uphold the judgment of the Supreme Court and to apply that law. The Supreme Court ruling will become the law of the land,” he added.
The governor also said he would not respond to criticism from the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. “I don’t have to comment on what they say. They have been saying this since November 2019, I took office in September. They’ve been saying this all the time because they discovered very early that they can’t use me as a stamp to condone all the illegal activities they commit. They are very angry with me because I postponed the appointment of the partner of the political secretary of the CM. So they are very angry with me. Let them vent their frustration. Why do I have to comment on that?” he told CNN News18.
Khan said he only insists that the law be followed. “There are many cases where they should be mad at me. For example, they wanted to give in cooperatives… to the officials who are admitted as administrators. I said it would be like butchering democracy, so I refused to do that.” They wanted to deprive the Lokayukta of the powers it has enjoyed for the past two decades. I refused to sign that. Then they wanted to change the process of appointing vice chancellors, they wanted to have three representatives. The bill was passed by the meeting … three government representatives and in the sense that they have determined that the panel will be decided by the majority because I insisted that you do not sign one name you sign the panel So the way out they found is the number of people that will sit on the committee and they will decide based on the majority in the panel that is completely against UGC regulations that is why I refused to sign them and. Their idea is that whatever they say, the governor has to sign it. My idea of this office is that I took an oath to protect, reason and defend the Constitution. The second part of my oath is that I will serve the people of their interest, the people of Kerala, as best I can,” the governor said.
Kerala’s youth have to go to other states and countries to find work and livelihood, while political workers receive a lifelong pension just after two years of service, he claimed.
Responding to talks about possible legislation to remove the governor, as the chancellor in Kerala, such as Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and West Bengal have tried, Khan said the state government is welcome to do it. “I offered them six to seven months ago that I will not sign all these proposals which are irregular and illegal for me, therefore you become the chancellor, you bring an ordinance, I will sign it, I have no problem. They will never bring it. They wrote me four letters. Even the other states you’re talking about haven’t implemented it. Why? Because academia does not accept executive interference in the universities; they will never accept it. They rely heavily on the UGC and UGC will never accept that. Not just my removal, but every governor. They do not accept government interference in the affairs of the university. The autonomy of academic institutions is a principle that is universally accepted, recognized and upheld. So these are just hollow threats. But I offered them every single file about college or university that came to my office for a month without a break. I kept referring them to the Prime Minister’s office. Then why didn’t he accept it if they wanted to introduce a law? And if they want to introduce a law, they are very welcome,” he said.
The state government plans to file a review request against the Supreme Court order revoking the appointment of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University as vice chancellor, while the LDF plans to hold a demonstration for the Raj Bhavan on Nov. 15 against the governor’s move.
“That is the right of every citizen of India and more so of the government if they want to file a review request,” the governor said. “But to attack the governor and threaten him that we will not let you go, we will hold a demonstration with 100,000 people to oust the Raj Bhavan, and the prime minister has said that the governor must be ready to face the consequences.” face it, if they hold back threats… And I love fighting people who make these threats. I’ve been through much worse in 1986. My house was attacked. I’ve been attacked five times. I don’t care what they’re going to do. I will not allow the interference of the government in the universities.”
Questions have been raised about the legal status of the governor’s move. “Remember that I am a lawyer myself and I have many friends who are senior lawyers in the Supreme Court,” Khan said. “Never expect me to take any action without thinking about it for quite some time. I have the advantage that many of my friends are senior lawyers on the Supreme Court. During the time I practiced in the courts…they are highly skilled and engaged by the most prominent names in the legal world, they have been my friends for almost 30-40 years. I have to tell you, I’ve consulted almost everyone. Some of them were of the opinion that when a verdict is given under quo warranto, there is no reason to give an explanation of reasons, but still I went by the opinion of these friends who said that you, to be more careful , a show-cause notice and asking them to demonstrate why the law of the Supreme Court does not apply to them. I notified them. Suppose they come up with convincing reasons that I have not been able to consider until now, then I will listen to them. But as far as the facts stand, each of them was either appointed through a selection committee that included only a chief secretary of the government, which the Supreme Court ruled invalidates the appointment ab initio, or one name was sent to the chancellor. He had no opportunity to exercise his discretion, which the Supreme Court ruled invalidated the appointment ab initio.”
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