SC Appoints Former CJI U U Lalit as Chairman of Panel to Select VCs in West Bengal

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Court noted that the situation has worsened due to the absence of regular Vice Chancellors and the prohibition on appointing interim or ad-hoc Vice Chancellors

The Supreme Court on Monday appointed former Chief Justice of India U U Lalit as chairman of the Search-cum-Selection Committees for appointment of Vice Chancellors in all state universities in West Bengal following a "rift" between the TMC government and the Governor, leading to "chaos" in such institutions.

A bench of Justices Surya Kant and K V Vishwanathan also nominated eminent educationists, scientists, jurists, subject experts and administrators etc for the purpose of empanelment on the committee.

The court invoked its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to do complete justice in this matter and passed the common order for constitution of Search-cum-Selection Committee for all the subject Universities.

"We resolve to constitute Search-cum-Selection Committee(s) of the same composition so as to avoid any confusion, irrespective of the fact that the relevant provision of the Statute of the concerned University may contain slight variations. Our endeavour is to infuse transparency, independence, fairness, and impartiality so as to ensure that the persons possessing the highest level of competence and integrity and are capable of leading the University by example are shortlisted," the bench said. 

In this regard, the bench said that it had made an effort to shortlist experts who are eminent scientists, educationists, jurists, subject experts, and administrators in their own right. 

"We have further attempted to set out that nominees of the Chancellor, Chief Minister, UGC, State Government, the Higher Education Department of West Bengal the intervenors etc, are adequately represented," the bench said.

The court authorised the chairperson to constitute separate or joint Search-cum-Selection Committees for one or more Universities, keeping in view the nature of subjects/disciplines in which education is being imparted in such pooled Universities. 

"The Chairperson is requested to nominate 4 persons out of the empaneled experts, whom he finds capable of short-listing suitable names for appointment as Vice-Chancellors. The Chairperson shall preside over every Search-cum-Selection Committee and thus, composition of each such Committee shall be five. The Search-cum-Selection Committee shall prepare a panel of at least 03 names (alphabetically and not in order of merit) for each University," the bench said.   

The court also asked the Chairperson to constitute the Search-cum-Selection Committees for the group or the individual Universities as early as possible and preferably within two weeks. 

The bench also directed the Search Committee to endeavour to complete their task within three months.

"The recommendations made by the Search-cum-Selection Committee, duly endorsed by the Chairperson, shall be put up before the Chief Minister (and not the Minister-in -charge of a Department) for necessary consideration. In case the Chief Minister has reasons to believe that any short¬listed person is unsuitable for appointment as Vice¬ Chancellor, the remarks to this effect along with supporting material and the original record of the recommendation made by the Search-cum-Selection Committee, shall be put up before the learned Chancellor within two weeks. The Chief Minister shall be entitled to recommend the shortlisted names in order of preference for appointment as Vice Chancellors," the bench said.

The court directed the Chancellor on the receipt of record from the Chief Minister of the State, to appoint the Vice Chancellors out of the empaneled names, in the same order of preference as recommended by the Chief Minister of the State. 

"The Chancellor shall accord his approval (save and except when there is a difference of opinion) within two weeks of receipt of file from the Chief Minister of the State," the bench ordered.

The bench also ruled that if the State Chief Minister objects to any name on the panel and the Chancellor does not accept this objection, or if the Chancellor objects to any name with his own reasons, all such cases should be presented before the top court.

"We make it clear that a final decision in this regard shall be taken by this Court after giving reasonable opportunity of being heard to the objectors," the bench said, seeking a status report from the state government on compliance before the next date of hearing.

The appointment of Vice Chancellors in 35 state universities was the "hallmark of controversy" before the top court. 

"The rift between the State Government, on the one hand, and the Governor of West Bengal, who happens to be the Chancellor of subject Universities, on the other, is the root cause of stalemate in the appointment of regular Vice-Chancellors. To elaborate further, there is no consensus between the two sets of authorities in the matter of constitution and composition of Search Committees for shortlisting the candidates for appointment as Vice Chancellors," the bench said.

The court found that the chaos has further deepened as neither there are regular Vice Chancellors nor interim or ad-hoc Vice Chancellors are permitted to be appointed. 

"Regardless thereto, the Chancellor has assigned the powers of Vice Chancellors to various persons — not necessarily all of them are academicians. The State of West Bengal has strongly protested against such a recourse," the bench said.