SC stays perks of newly appointed VCs in WB, asks governor to sit with CM over cup of coffee to resolve dispute

The Supreme Court Friday stayed the emoluments of the newly appointed interim vice-chancellors of state-run universities in West Bengal and asked Governor CV Ananda Bose to sit with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee “over a cup of coffee” to resolve the deadlock over appointment of VCs.

The top court said there is a need for reconciliation between the governor and the chief minister “in the interest of educational institutions and the future careers of lakhs of students”.

A bench of Justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta said the stay on emoluments to interim VCs appointed in August will continue till the pendency of the state government’s petition against the governor’s action of appointing interim vice-chancellors. The governor is the ex-officio chancellor of state universities.

“Please convey this to the chancellor. Our request is to fix a date and time that will be convenient for the chief minister, and invite her for a cup of coffee so that these things can be discussed and sorted out,” the bench told senior advocate Dama Sheshadri Naidu, appearing for the governor.

Justice Kant said, “We agree, sometimes there are differences of opinion between constitutional functionaries. On the judicial side, we judges also disagree with each other. But that does not mean we stop meeting and discussing things.”

The top court was hearing an appeal of the West Bengal government against the June 28 order of the Calcutta High Court which said there was no illegality in the orders issued by the governor appointing interim VCs in 11 state-run universities.

The Mamata Banerjee government and the governor are locked in a bitter tussle over how the state’s universities should run.

On Friday, the bench issued notice on an application filed by the state challenging the latest appointments of interim VCs and sought the response of the governor’s office within a week.

Senior Advocate Abhishek Singhvi, appearing for the state, said after the court had issued notice on the plea last month, 12 such appointments have been made to Netaji Subhas Open University, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University, Burdwan University, and others.

“This is not fair. The appointment order does not even mention that these would be subject to the outcome of this litigation. In any matter, even without the court saying so, we hold our hands, or we take the court’s permission. This cannot go on. That is the least expected,” Singhvi said.

Justice Kant said, “We are allowing them to continue as acting vice-chancellors, but they will not be entitled to any perks for now.”

The bench clarified the stay order will be applicable to the appointments made during the pendency of the plea and not the appointments which are subject matter of the original litigation.

Naidu submitted a “pathetic situation” has been created in higher education institutions of the state because of the government’s non-cooperation.

“University officials are being transferred behind vice-chancellors’ backs and they have been instructed not to cooperate. They (government) have stopped the funds. Universities could not issue degree certificates, let alone conduct examinations. It is a pathetic position,” he said.

The bench suggested the names of individuals, on whom there is a consensus between the state government and the governor, should be cleared promptly.

Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, also appearing for the state, said there was a deadlock and even letters from the state government seeking a meeting with the governor have gone unanswered.

The bench said, “We are expecting understanding and maturity from both sides, since this is a question of educational institutions and the future careers of lakhs of students. West Bengal has been a hub of quality education right from the time of


Justice Kant said, “We hope those standards, values, and morals would be observed by both sides and would help us solve this issue amicably.”

Justice Datta expressed his displeasure over the situation and said whatever is happening in West Bengal is very unfortunate, and questioned the delay in according assent to the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

The Bill proposes to replace the governor with the chief minister as the chancellor of all state-aided universities by virtue of his/her office and increase the number of members of the search committee for appointment of vice-chancellors from three to five.

Justice Datta said, “The legislature has done something, and then, it has gone to the governor. He has a duty to take a decision. There is no time limit mentioned in the Constitution but that does not mean you do not take a decision (in giving or denying assent to the Bill).”

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Naidu agreed to convey the view of the court to the governor. The bench posted the matter for further hearing on October 31.

The bench told Naidu it will pass orders on October 31 if the issue is not resolved by then.

“But, in the meantime, if you are able to resolve this, then we will not intervene. Courts are normally reluctant to interfere in these issues because these are administrative decisions and involve the discharge of constitutional functions. Courts should not unnecessarily interfere unless we are called for. We are still hopeful and confident that they will be able to resolve this,” the bench said.

On September 27, the top court had sought names of eminent personalities including scientists, technocrats, administrators, educationists and jurists for setting up a search committee for shortlisting and appointing VCs in state-run universities.

Taking note of the running feud between the state and the office of the governor on the issue, the top court had decided on September 15 that it will set up a search committee to pick VCs.

Earlier, the high court had held the chancellor has the power to appoint VCs as laid down in relevant enactments.

Sanat Kumar Ghosh, a petitioner who moved the high court, and the West Bengal government claimed the orders appointing VCs to state-run universities were illegal as the governor had not consulted the higher education department before making the appointments.

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