NINE MONTHS after a doctoral research scholar of the bio-sciences department of Saurashtra University complained of sexual harassment by her guide, the varsity on Monday decided to terminate the services of the accused, Prof Nilesh Panchal, after a one-member enquiry committee found him guilty.
The SU syndicate held a meeting on Monday and decided to terminate Panchal’s services with immediate effect, based on the findings of an enquiry by advocate Dinesh Trivedi.
“The enquiry committee report has concluded that allegations and accusations levelled against Prof Panchal by the student are substantial and that there is substantial evidence against the professor,” SU vice-chancellor Prof Nitinkumar Pethani told The Indian Express. “Therefore, the syndicate unanimously decided to terminate the services of Prof Panchal with immediate effect as such an act cannot be tolerated.” The termination order will be issued Tuesday.
The varsity decision comes two months after the Trivedi committee submitted its report to the SU syndicate in March. “The report was submitted just days after a meeting of the syndicate, and therefore we could not convene another meeting with the sole agenda of considering the report,” Pethani said. There was further delay as Lok Sabha elections were announced and the Model Code of Conduct was in effect, putting on hold all administrative decisions of the state-owned university.
SU had constituted the enquiry committee after the university’s anti-sexual harassment cell for women found merit in the complaint. In her complaint, lodged on August 30, the woman said, among other allegations, that Panchal had called her to his chamber and touched her inappropriately. Panchal was suspended on September 24.
“We had to act as there was enough material against the accused,” Prof Nita Udani, head of the department of journalism and chair of the anti-sexual harassment cell, told The Indian Express.
The victim had enrolled as a PhD candidate in 2014. In 2018, she accused her guide Panchal of sexually harassing her during formal interactions. In her deposition, she said Panchal sent her to the union territory of Diu to collect samples of plants for her research and later himself drove there, caught up with her and tried to force her to go for a swim at the beach. Despite her resisting his advances, Panchal told her that she would have to travel with him in his car and also stay with him in a hotel, she said. The woman immediately contacted her family members and returned to Rajkot.
Months later, she abandoned her research project. Hearing of the university’s decision to terminate Prof Panchal’s services, the woman said she would now file a police complaint against him. “I am very happy that finally the university has acted and dismissed him from service,” she said.
Panchal, however, pleaded innocence. “The complaint is false and completely baseless. Moreover, I was not given a fair opportunity to present myself before the committee,” he said. “I will study the documents of decision of the university and then decide my future course of action.”
Vice-Chancellor Pethani said while Panchal was free to seek legal remedy, the SU would extend all support to the victim. “Prof Panchal has the legal right to approach court if he feels aggrieved. But the SU also reserves the right to seek criminal proceedings against the professor. We shall extend full support to the victim if she herself decides to file a criminal complaint,” Pethani said.