The HRD Ministry had recommended Bidyut Chakrabarty’s name for vice-chancellorship of Visva-Bharati University even though, just three years ago, it had red-flagged the disciplinary action taken against him on charges of sexual harassment and ignored his candidature for the top job at Delhi University (DU).
In 2010, the Apex Complaints Committee (ACC) of DU had found Chakrabarty guilty of sexual harassment during the time he was director of Gandhi Bhawan, a DU centre dedicated to the study and work of Mahatma Gandhi. The complaint was filed by an employee of Gandhi Bhawan.
The ACC had recommended that he be barred from all administrative posts and supervisory duties in the institution for three years, and noted that even after Chakrabarty’s punishment is over the university should “keep his past conduct in mind” while considering him for any assignment that involves “intensive interaction with female colleagues/subordinates”. The report was accepted by DU’s Executive Council in 2012.
Although the university had found him guilty of sexual harassment, a parallel FIR alleging molestation lodged by the complainant was quashed by the Delhi High Court in September 2010 as the police could not find any evidence of the incident.
The disciplinary action initiated by DU and the ACC’s observation was placed on record by the HRD Ministry, under Smriti Irani, while considering Chakrabarty for the V-C’s post at DU in 2015.
According to documents accessed by The Indian Express, a file noting, dated December 29, 2015, on the candidates shortlisted for vice-chancellorship of DU states, “Out of the panel of four candidates, Prof. Bidyut Chakrabarty belongs to DU itself and is thus an insider and would bring an insider’s perception and outlook and not an outsider perspective.. Further, though he is clear from vigilance angle, the observation of the Apex Committee in the sexual harassment case against him that ‘to keep his past conduct in mind while considering any assignment which involves intensive interaction with female colleagues/subordinates’ are adverse in nature.”
Clause 7.3 of the UGC’s regulation on ‘Minimum Qualification for appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges’ states that a vice-chancellor of a university should be “a person possessing the highest level of competence, integrity, morals and institutional commitment”.
According to DU sources, the university administration had intimated the government of the disciplinary action taken against Chakrabarty again last month when his name was being considered for Visva-Bharati. However, this time, the HRD Ministry wanted to know if the “period of debarment” from administrative posts had expired or was still valid for Chakrabarty.
Once DU replied in the negative, the ministry is learnt to have forwarded his name for the job. President Ram Nath Kovind approved the proposal earlier this month even though it mentioned that Chakrabarty was debarred from holding any administrative position in DU for three years in a matter of sexual harassment. Chakrabarty could not be reached for a comment as he is travelling abroad.
His appointment, notified on October 8, came more than six months after the President, in an unprecedented move, scrapped his decision to appoint Swapan Kumar Datta as the university V-C at the behest of the HRD Ministry. Chakrabarty hasn’t taken charge at Visva-Bharati yet. He is expected to join in the last week of October.