THE Supreme Court on Thursday quashed the appointment of Shirish Kulkarni as the Vice-Chancellor of Sardar Patel University [SP University], Gujarat after having found the same contrary to the University Grants Commission Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education, 2018 [UGC Regulations].
A division bench of Justices M.R. Shah and B.V. Nagarathna held that Kulkarni did not have ten years of teaching experience as a professor in the university system. Besides, his appointment was not done by a search committee having a UGC chairperson or his nominee, as required under the UGC Regulations.
The bench held that the UGC regulations are binding on the state government when it has already adopted a scheme of revision of pay of teachers in the Universities following the Sixth Central Pay Commission, under which a fixed pay of Rs. 75,000 along with a special allowance of Rs. 5,000 per month is payable to the Vice-Chancellor. It also pointed out that the state government accepted 80 per cent of the maintenance expenditure from the union government.
It also held that the UGC Regulations, being subordinate legislation, became the part of the UGC Act, and thus in case of any conflict between state legislation and central legislation, the latter shall prevail by applying the rule/principle of repugnancy as enunciated in Article 254 of the Constitution, as the subject ‘education’ is in the Concurrent List (List III) of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. It thus held that any appointment as a VC contrary to the provisions of the UGC Regulations can be said to be in violation of the statutory provisions, warranting a writ of quo warranto.
The bench also expressed displeasure at the Gujarat government for not acting on the communication of the Governor asking the former to comply with the UGC letter directing it to follow the UGC regulations. The Court opined that the state government, by not amending its statutes in tune with the UGC Regulations, left it to the sweet will of the search committee to prescribe the eligibility criteria for the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor.
The bench was ruling on a petition filed by Gambhirdan K. Gadhvi, an ex-employee of the SP University, seeking a writ of quo warranto against the appointment of Kulkarni. In 2019, the Supreme Court, in a Special Leave Petition [SLP], refused to quash the appointment of Kulkarni because it was of the opinion that by the time the said SLP could be heard, only one month remained in the tenure of Kulkarni. However, the state government again appointed him the Vice-Chancellor for three more years, ignoring the UGC Regulations.
The petitioner contended that again, the search committee was not constituted as per the UGC Regulations. According to him, the search committee diluted the criteria to suit Kulkarni, in so far as it states that persons who have remained Vice-Chancellor for one term are eligible.
The court observed that the provisions of the SP University Act and UGC Regulations are contrary to each other inasmuch the former does not provide any qualification whatsoever for appointment to the post of Vice-Chancellor. Even the eligibility criteria to be prescribed is left to the Search Committee. There are no guidelines whatsoever on the eligibility criteria to be prescribed by the Search Committee.
The Court had hoped that the state government would amend the state legislation accordingly on par with the UGC Regulations, which as such was recommended by the Governor of Gujarat as far back as 2014. The Supreme Court also pointed out that even the division bench of the High Court, in the first round of litigation, had made observations that it is high time that the state government adopt the UGC Regulations and amend the state legislation appropriately so that no room is left for any manipulation, arbitrariness, nepotism and favouritism before any fresh appointment as a Vice-Chancellor in the state and the universities thereunder are made. Click here to read the Supreme Court’s full judgment.