SC affirms HC’s quashing of Calcutta University VC re-appointment

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the Calcutta High Court judgment quashing the re-appointment of Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee as Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University.

Banerjee was re-appointed by the Mamata Banerjee government, despite disagreement with the decision of the Governor, who is the ex-officio Chancellor of all state varsities.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli said: “The state government chose the incorrect path under Section 60 (of the Calcutta University Act) by misusing the ‘removal of difficulty clause’ to usurp the power of the Chancellor to make the appointment. A government cannot misuse the ‘removal of difficulty clause’ to remove all obstacles in its path which arise due to statutory restrictions. Allowing such actions would be antithetical to the rule of law.”

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The top court said there is neither an express provision nor a necessary intendment by which it could be inferred that the power which is entrusted to the Chancellor to appoint a VC is taken away in the case of a re-appointment.

It added there is no intrinsic reason or rationale to accept the interpretation which has been urged on behalf of the state of West Bengal and a re-appointment is the appointment of an existing incumbent who fulfils the conditions of eligibility.

“The power of appointment including re-appointment is entrusted to the Chancellor and not to the state government. The amended provisions of Section 8(2)(a) cannot therefore be construed to mean that the power of re-appointment has been taken away from the Chancellor and entrusted to the State government. Reading the provisions in such a manner, would make the provisions entrusting the power of appointment of the VC with the Chancellor redundant,” said Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench.

Banerjee was re-appointed with effect from August 28, 2021 for a period of four years.

The top court added that misusing the limited power granted to make minor adaptations and peripheral adjustments in a statute for making its implementation effective to side-step the provisions of the statute altogether would defeat the purpose of the legislation.

Dismissing the appeals filed by the West Bengal government and Banerjee challenging the order of the Calcutta High Court, the bench said: “Accordingly, the high court in our view was justified in coming to the conclusion that in the guise of removing the difficulties, the State cannot change the scheme and essential provisions of the Act.”

“We hold that the judgment of the high court is correct in law and in fact and does not warrant interference in appeal. The State government could not have issued the order re-appointing the VC”.

Banerjee is married to Alapan Bandyopadhyay, who was the former Chief Secretary of West Bengal and now serving as the Chief Advisor to the Chief Minister.

On September 13, the high court set aside the state Education Department’s decision to re-appoint her as Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University.

A division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj passed the order on a PIL, which challenged her appointment, contending that the state government had no power to reappoint a V-C “as the power to appoint/reappoint lies with the Chancellor”.

“The order of the re-appointment of respondent No. 4 as the Vice Chancellor, Calcutta University, issued by the state government, has no legal force and is void in the eyes of law and non-existent, hence liable to be set aside,” it ruled.

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