Setback for Kerala govt as SC quashes reappointment of Kannur VC Gopinath Ravindran

The division bench observed that Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who is also the Chancellor of Universities, had to “abdicate or surrender” his statutory powers for the VC’s reappointment.
Gopinath Ravindran
Gopinath Ravindran
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The Supreme Court on Thursday, November 30, set aside the reappointment of Gopinathan Ravindran as the Vice Chancellor (VC) of Kannur University in Kerala, stating that the “unwarranted interference” by the Kerala government had vitiated the appointment process. The division bench also observed that the Kerala Governor, who is the Chancellor of Universities, “abdicated or surrendered the statutory powers” for the VC’s reappointment. 

The observations were made after taking into consideration a press statement from the Raj Bhavan, which stated that the reappointment process was initiated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Higher Education Minister R Bindu. The bench, headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, was setting aside a Kerala High Court order upholding Gopinath’s reappointment.

According to a report on Live Law, the court considered four matters related to the reappointment guidelines. Whether reappointment is permissible in a tenure post, whether the upper age limit of 60 years is applicable for reappointment, whether reappointment needs to follow the same procedure of appointing a VC, and whether the Chancellor abdicates or surrenders the statutory power of reappointment. The bench allowed the appeal on the fourth question.

After Gopinath’s reappointment was notified in November 2021, it was Kannur University senate member Dr Premachandran Keezhoth and academic council member Shino P Jose who first approached the Kerala High Court questioning the decision. The petitioners contended that a person can hold office of VC only till the age of 60, and Gopinath, born on December 19, 1960, was overage at the time of his second appointment. They also argued that after the expiry of a VC’s four-year term, there was no clause for extension and the only option was appointment.

A single-judge bench of the High Court, however, approved the re-appointment at the time, following which the petitioners went to a division bench with an appeal. The bench rejected it on February 23 last year.

Meanwhile, the case escalated into a public showdown between the Kerala government and Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, with the Governor alleging that Pinarayi had used “pressure tactics” to get him to sign off on Gopinath’s reappointment. A letter sent by R Bindu to the Governor requesting to reappoint Gopinath also surfaced, leading to further controversy.

Responding to the latest SC verdict, Arif Mohammed Khan alleged that the government was trying to use the power of law to destroy institutions, universities, and their autonomy. They cannot expect me to be their ‘yes man’. I am not,” he said.

Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan also reiterated that the VC reappointment was against the norms of the University Grants Commission (UGC). “The Higher Education Minister cannot interfere in the appointment of a VC, but that’s what happened here. I demand the minister’s resignation because of her unwarranted interference in this appointment,” he said.

Minister Bindu, meanwhile, said she was accepting the court verdict, and that she will issue a detailed statement after going through the entire Supreme Court judgment. Stating that he will not petition for a review, Gopinath said, “I did not request for a reappointment, but I have never felt it was wrong. I was able to do many things for the university.”

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