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Visva-Bharti row: Pranab Mukherjee again questions HRD on V-C removal

This is the second time Mukherjee’s office has questioned the legality of the ministry’s recommendation in the matter.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi |
Updated: December 1, 2015 12:09:58 am
pranab mukherjee, pranab mukherjee in gujarat, pranab mukherjee gujarat visit, amul, iim ahmedabad, india news As first reported by The Indian Express on September 22, the Smriti Irani-led HRD ministry had recommended Dattagupta’s removal on grounds of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty in its final report to President Pranab Mukherjee.

Signaling a stand-off between the HRD ministry and the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President’s office has sought clarifications on the proposed sacking of the Visva-Bharati Vice-Chancellor (V-C), Sushanta Dattagupta, for the second time in two months.

As first reported by The Indian Express on September 22, the Smriti Irani-led 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 last Friday 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. The President’s office was now awaiting the ministry’s response, said sources.

This is the second time Mukherjee’s office has questioned the legality of the ministry’s recommendation in the matter. It had first returned the Visva-Bharati file in September asking the ministry to seek legal opinion. The proposal was then vetted and approved by the law ministry and Attorney General of India. When contacted by The Indian Express, President’s Press Secretary Venu Rajamony declined to comment. HRD Minister Smriti Irani was unavailable for comment.

Dattagupta was appointed by the UPA government in 2011 and still has nearly a year left in his term. The HRD ministry wants him removed over allegations of impropriety. 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, however, had challenged the legality of the fact-finding committee instituted by the government. After his plea was shot down by the Calcutta High Court, he had e-mailed his resignation to Rashtrapati Bhavan on September 30. The V-C’s fate has been uncertain ever since, reportedly because of a silent tussle between the ministry and Rashtrapati Bhavan on the issue.

While Rashtrapati Bhavan wants Irani’s 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.

Meanwhile, Dattagupta rejoined office this month.

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