Kerala’s Sree Chitra Institute appoints director-in-charge until further order

Meanwhile, Dr Asha Kishore has moved the High Court, challenging a CAT order that set aside her extension as the director of Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute.
K Jayakumar and Asha Kishore
K Jayakumar and Asha Kishore
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In a fresh turn of events at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) in Thiruvananthapuram, professor K Jayakumar assumed charge as the director-in-charge on Monday. Jayakumar’s appointment, however, is effective until further orders or till the post is filled through the formal selection process, whichever is earlier, read an order from the Administrative Officer of the Institute. Jayakumar is a senior professor at the Cardiovascular Thoracic Surgery Department at the Institute. He joined the institute in 2001.

The Institute, which is a central government institution with autonomous power, has been in the spotlight this year after some faculty members challenged Dr Asha Kishore’s tenure as the institute’s director. 

In May, her tenure extension was extended by five years following a meeting held by the Institute Body. The decision was officially published on June 2 and was approved by Dr VK Saraswat, the president of SCTIMST, who is also a member of the Niti Aayog. As per the decision, Asha was to continue holding the post from July 17 till her retirement in February 2025. However, a group, which is alleged to be backed by a few members in the RSS and BJP, questioned the extension of her tenure and even approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). 

Dr Asha moves HC again

While the CAT stayed the extension on August 5, observing that the matter required consideration on merits, the Kerala High Court set aside this order on August 13. Accordingly, Dr Asha resumed as the director of the Institute following the High Court order. 

However, a faculty member once again moved the Ernakulam Bench of the CAT, challenging the extension of Dr Asha Kishore’s tenure as the institute’s director. The CAT, on Friday, set aside Dr Asha’s extension. On Monday, she moved the High Court, challenging the latest order by the CAT, which she confirmed to TNM. 

The institute is functioning under the Department of Science and Technology with autonomous power. SCTIMST, like other autonomous institutions like the IIT, have the authority to extend such tenures. 

Faculty member Dr Sajith Sukumaran, who is Additional Professor, Department of Neurology at the Institute, had moved the CAT. It was on the final order on the same petition of the faculty member that CAT once again revoked the extension. CAT is a statutory body that deals with the disputes pertaining to recruitment and service of persons appointed to public posts and services.

According to the petitioner, the authority competent to approve the extension is the Apex Council and hence Asha's extension is illegal and has to be set aside. 

However, the HC had observed that the procedure for the appointment is provided under Rule 7 (11) of the SCTIMST, Trivandrum Rules and Regulations, 1984.

As per the rules, the post of Director shall be made by the Institute on the basis of the recommendation of a Selection Committee constituted by the Union government consisting of the Secretary, Department of Science and Technology of Government of India as Chairman, the Director-General of Indian Council of Medical Research, the President of the National Academy of Medical Sciences and the President of the Institution of Engineers (India) as members.

The CAT's latest order, it is observed that, hasn’t considered the observations made by the HC on August 13, while setting aside the earlier order of the CAT.

Political intervention from external members is alleged to have led to the course events at the Institute. Asha, in June, had written to Union Minister Harsh Vardan saying that she was being targeted and subjected to mudslinging by a few external persons.

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