In an unprecedented move, the Human Resource Development Ministry is said to have asked President Ram Nath Kovind to reconsider his assent to a key appointment.
Late last year, The Indian Express has learnt, Rashtrapati Bhavan had received a panel of three names from the HRD Ministry for the post of new Vice-Chancellor (V-C) of Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan — the President is its Visitor and the Prime Minister its Chancellor.
The panel suggested the following names: Swapan Kumar Dutta, then the Acting V-C of the university and an agricultural scientist; P N Mishra of the Institute of Management Studies at Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya (DAVV) in Indore; and, Sankar Kumar Nath of the geophysics and geology department at IIT Kharagpur.
Late January, President Kovind, university sources said, gave his assent to appoint Dutta as the V-C.
Curiously, the official order was not issued. Dutta, who served as Acting V-C for close to two years, retired last month.
Instead, Rashtrapati Bhawan received a note from HRD Ministry requesting Kovind to reconsider his assent and let the Ministry scrap the earlier panel and send a fresh one.
HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar was not available for comment.
Higher Education Secretary K K Sharma and Additional Secretary Sukhbir Singh Sandhu did not respond to calls and text messages. The President’s press secretary, Ashok Malik, declined to comment.
Although the request to scrap a panel for the V-C’s post is not unusual, this is the first time such a proposal has been received by the President’s office after the appointment of a candidate has already been approved.
The only example closest to Dutta’s case is that of scientist Anil Kakodkar, whose appointment as chairman of IIT-Roorkee was approved by Rashtrapati Bhawan in July 2017. Until date, the ministry hasn’t issued formal orders notifying the appointment.
Interestingly, neither has the government approached the President’s office to reconsider the decision, as it did in Dutta’s case.
Dutta was given the responsibility to act as the head of Visva-Bharati in February 2016 right after the regular V-C Sushanta Dattagupta was sacked by the HRD Ministry, then under Smriti Irani, for alleged administrative irregularities. This was the first time the head of a central university was fired by the government.
Dutta’s time as Acting V-C was eventful with teachers often protesting his decisions. The last agitation happened in January this year with two sections of teachers writing separately to the HRD Ministry, one demanding that Dutta be made permanent V-C and the other seeking the appointment of a new head.
Visva Bharati is the only Central university with the Prime Minister as its Chancellor. The institution was founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and its alumni list includes filmmaker Satyajit Ray and economist Amartya Sen.