In what has come as a shot in the arm for Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, the Law Ministry has once again endorsed the recommendation to remove Visva-Bharati University Vice-Chancellor (V-C) Sushanta Dattagupta.
The legal opinion has come a little over two months after the President’s office, on December 1, 2015, sought clarifications on the proposed sacking of Dattagupta. The Law Ministry is learnt to have not found anything amiss with how the Ministry initiated probe against the V-C and sought his removal based on findings of the investigation.
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As first reported by The Indian Express on September 22, 2015, the HRD ministry had recommended Dattagupta’s removal on grounds of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty in its final report to President Pranab Mukherjee. This had set the stage for what, perhaps, would have been the first-ever sacking of a central university V-C. Rashtrapati Bhavan, however, returned the file just ahead of the Winter Session of Parliament, asking the government to clarify if the proposed removal was legally tenable and, also, whether the V-C should be sacked without a chance to present his case in person.
“We have said that if the President wishes he can give Dattagupta a personal hearing although it’s not compulsory,” said a source in Law Ministry, who did not wish to be identified.
HRD Ministry is now expected to once again recommend the V-C’s sacking to the President. Dattagupta was appointed by the UPA government in 2011 and still has nearly eight months left in his term. He has been accused of making illegal appointments, drawing pension from Jawaharlal Nehru University along with his salary from Visva-Bharati without getting it deducted from his pay and getting his liquor bills reimbursed by the varsity.
Dattagupta had challenged the legality of the fact-finding committee instituted by the government. After his plea was shot down by Calcutta High Court, he had e-mailed his resignation to Rashtrapati Bhavan on September 30, 2015. The V-C’s fate has been uncertain ever since, reportedly because of a silent tussle between the ministry and Rashtrapati Bhavan.
According to sources, Rashtrapati Bhavan wants the ministry to accept the resignation and has informally conveyed its unwillingness to sack him. The government isn’t keen on doing so as this would absolve Dattagupta of all the allegations.
The delay in acting against Dattagupta seems to have made students and faculty of the university in Shantiniketan restless. About 20 intellectuals and professors, including Rajya Sabha member D Bandhyopadhyay, wrote to the President and the PM, urging them to act quickly on this matter.