The squabble between the Trinamool Congress government and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar over the appointment of a Pro-Vice Chancellor of Burdwan University continued on Tuesday as the state administration’s appointee Professor Ashis Panigrahi, who teaches zoology at Kalyani University, took charge.
On Monday, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee had hit out at Dhankhar for disregarding the government’s list of three names, and appointing Professor Goutam Chandra, the head of Burdwan University’s zoology department, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Administration and Academic). Panigrahi’s appointment was announced by the state higher education department in a late night order.
Chandra said he had not yet taken charge as he was awaiting his appointment letter from the Governor. “After the Governor’s order, another order was issued by the state government, which appointed another professor to the post of pro-VC of Burdwan University. I really don’t have anything to say in this regard as I am really confused about the entire matter. Let’s see what happens now,” he said.
Panigrahi said, “As per the order issued by the higher education department, I have taken the position as Pro-VC today.”
Following the government’s move, the Raj Bhavan directed the VCs of state universities to send their communications directly to it. The Governor is the chancellor of universities by virtue of his position.
Meanwhile, the war of words between Dhankhar and Partha Chatterjee took an ugly turn as the Governor lashed out at the minister for calling him a “BJP man” Monday, while Chatterjee said Dhankhar was behaving like a thug.
Dhankhar claimed Chandra had been appointed after consultations with the minister. Reacting to Chatterjee’s claim that he wants to appoint “people loyal to BJP” in education institutions, the Governor said such statements were unbecoming of a minister.
“In the reported statement, the Hon’ble Minister has called the Governor ‘BJP man’… Such an allegatory stance, apart from being highly regretful, is unbecoming for the position he holds as Minister. It is also an outrage of the Oath of Office he has taken as a Minister,” the Raj Bhavan said in a statement. Dhankhar demanded that Chatterjee withdraw his statement, and sought Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s intervention.
“The appointment of the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Burdwan University was effected after due consultation with the Hon’ble Minister on more than one occasion in accordance with the statutory provisions of the Burdwan University Act. The same is in accordance with the legal regime and competence of the Chancellor enjoys under the provisions of the Act,” said the Raj Bhavan.
Dhankhar also took umbrage at Chatterjee for reminding him that the government pays salaries in all state universities. “His stance that the Governor should remember that ‘government pays salaries in all the Universities’ is not only lamentable but betrays ignorance about the working of the Constitution and democracy. Does he intend to indicate that by paying salaries, such vital educational institutions are required to be at his beck and call, be in subordination and compliance mode? Such a situation will be a death-knell of education in the state, and is unacceptable,” the Raj Bhavan said.
In response, the Education Minister took a dig at the Governor and accused him of threatening the VCs of state universities.
“I have never heard in my career before that a Governor is issuing an appointment letter. It is completely undemocratic and unconstitutional. He is misusing his position as the Governor of the state. We will not accept it. Moreover we heard from vice-chancellors that the Governor is threatening them over the phone. Things such as ‘you will be suspended’ and ‘you will be finished’ are being said to vice-chancellors… It is hurtful to come across mastan-like [thug-like] statements from him,” Chatterjee told reporters.
In December 2019, the state government had brought in new rules to curb the Governor’s role as chancellor of state universities. Some of vice-chancellors’ powers were also curtailed.
In a gazette notification, the state government abolished the chancellor’s secretariat, reduced the chancellor’s role in choosing vice-chancellors, took away his power to convene meetings of the highest bodies of the universities or take action against vice-chancellors.
The West Bengal State Universities (Terms and Conditions of Service of the Vice Chancellor & the Manner and Procedure of Official Communication) Rules, 2019, were introduced to the West Bengal Universities and Colleges (Administration and Regulation) Act, 2017, during the last winter session of the state Assembly.
In Tuesday’s order, the Raj Bhavan said the rules do not override the provisions of the Acts governing various universities.