HC seeks DU, UGC stand on St Stephen’s College plea over renewal of principal’s term

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday sought the stand of the Delhi University (DU) and UGC on a petition by St Stephen’s College against the varsity’s objection to the renewal of the term of its principal.

A bench headed by Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva issued notice on the plea and granted liberty to the college to approach the court for relief in case there is any interference with the functioning of Prof. John Verghese as its head.

The counsel for DU said the principal has continued on the post for the last two years and since no coercive action has been taken, no case was made out for any interim direction.

The bench, also comprising Justice Manoj Jain, asked DU and UGC to file their replies to the petition and said, “Liberty is granted to the petitioner to approach the court if any hinderance is caused in functioning of the principal.”

The counsel for the petitioner said DU was insisting that the renewal of the principal’s term, after an initial stint of 5 years, should either be done by an external review committee or the post should be re-advertised.

Varghese was first appointed as the principal in 2016 and re-appointed to the post after his 5-year term ended in 2021, the court was informed.

The petitioner college contended that DU’s stand was against the rights of the minority institutions under Article 30 of the Constitution.

In the petition filed through lawyer Romy Chacko, the petitioner urged the court to declare that the UGC Regulations and the Delhi University Ordinances providing for an external peer review for the renewal of the term of the Principal, was not applicable to it.

The petitioner’s counsel insisted that interim directions be passed in the matter to the effect that they were being allowed to appoint teachers.

The court, however, said that DU has already made a statement that it was not taking any action pursuant to its objections to the second term to the principal.

“They have already said no (action was being taken). If they do it, the petition is pending. They have said they are not going to do anything,” the court said.

The court asked DU what was the “meaning of not recognising” the renewed term of the principal and if it would lead to the rejection of any actions taken by him in that capacity.

The DU counsel said the objection with respect to the extended term was based on the UGC regulations governing the appointment of principals in colleges but, in the present case, no adverse steps have been taken by it till now.

The petitioner, in his plea said, it was directed by DU last year to “follow the UGC Regulations in true spirit for the appointment of Principal in the College failing which the University will not recognise Professor John Varghese as Principal of the College ever since his 5-year term ended”.

The petition said while DU did not dispute the validity of the appointment of Varghese as the principal by the Supreme Council of the college, it was “insisting that insofar as renewal of his term after 5 years/reappointment, the same can be done only by a review committee consisting of the nominee of Vice Chancellor and nominee of the Chairman UGC by relying upon the Regulations of the UGC and corresponding changes made in the Ordinances of the Delhi University”.

It asserted that as per Article 30 of the Constitution of India, there cannot be any participation by external agencies in matter of selection and appointment of the principal.

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The UGC could only lay down norms such as educational qualifications but is not empowered to participate in the actual selection of the principal of a college, the plea said.

“The Respondent University continued harassing the Petitioner College. The Respondent University decided to keep on hold Petitioner College’s request for providing the panel of names for nominating nominees by the Chairperson, Governing Body and subject experts by the Chairperson, Governing Body to be on the selection committee for selection and appointment of Assistant Professors,” the petition said.

“To the utter surprise of the petitioners on 30.12.2022 the college was directed by the University to advertise the post of principal keeping in line with the UGC Regulation adopted by the University or to seek ex post facto approval of the University in extending the term of Professor John Varghese as Principal of Petitioner College for second term in consonance with the UGC Regulation of 2018 incorporated under clause 7(2) d of Ordinance XVIII of the University,” it added.

The matter would be heard next in November.

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