Kerala HC quashes KUFOS VC appointment; ‘UGC norms prevail over state’s law’

KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Monday quashed the appointment of the vice-chancellor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS) as the appointment was made from a single-name panel, and not from a panel of names as required under the UGC Regulations.
A division bench comprising chief justice S Manikumar and justice Shaji P Chaly held that the appointment of K Riji John as the vice chancellor of KUFOS, overlooking the UGC Regulations, cannot be sustained under law. The Search cum Selection Committee constituted for the appointment of the vice chancellor was also in violation of the UGC Regulations, the court held. The court considered two petitions (NCN 2022/KER/62857) filed by KK Vijayan and G Sadasivan Nair of Ernakulam challenging the appointment.
Citing the Supreme Court’s recent judgment declaring as void the appointment of the vice-chancellor of APJAKTU, the division bench said the university had to follow the UGC Regulations in the matter of appointment of the Search cum Selection Committee as well as the recommendation of the panel of names for appointment of the vice-chancellor.
The state government had contended that the apex court’s recent judgment (Professor Dr. Sreejith PS Vs. Dr. Rajasree MS and Others) does not strictly apply to the appointment of the KUFOS VC as the university statute of APJAKTU had specified the appointment from a panel of not less than three suitable persons from among the eminent persons in the field of Engineering Science.
Disagreeing with the government, the division bench said the apex court had clearly stated that as per the UGC Regulations, the Chancellor should appoint the VC out of a panel of names recommended by the Search Committee and when only one name was recommended, the Chancellor had no option to consider the panel of names. Therefore, the appointment of the VC in such a manner is dehors or contrary to the UGC Regulations and it was held to be illegal and void ab initio, the bench pointed out.
After considering the apex court’s ruling in Rajasree’s case, the division bench held, “Taking into consideration the law accordingly, we have no hesitation to hold that the selection of Dr. K. Riji John as the Vice Chancellor of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, overlooking the UGC Regulations, 2018, cannot be sustained under law.”
The court also held that the provisions of the UGC Regulations prevail over the university statute. “To put it otherwise, the provisions of the UGC Regulations, 2018 in the matter of appointment of Vice Chancellor and the constitution of the Search cum Selection Committee have supremacy and paramountcy over the provisions of the Act, 2010 (university statute),” the judgment stated.
Once a state university is recognized by the University Grants Commission (UGC), it is obliged under law to follow its requirements, the bench said. The UGC Act, 1956 was made to make provision for the coordination and determination of standards in universities, the court noted, adding that the UGC Regulations were made on the basis of the power conferred under Section 26 of the UGC Act.
It was argued by the state government that it had exclusive power to legislate on education, including university education. The government relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment of 1999 (Dr. Preeti Srivastava and another Vs. State of MP and others).
Responding to this, the court said, “However, we are unable to agree with the same for the basic reason that it is clearly held in Dr. Preeti Srivastava that when there is a conflict by and between any provision of law made by the legislature of a State, and the law made by Parliament, which it is competent to enact, then the provisions of law made by the Parliament would have precedence over the law made by the State enactment.”