This is the first time in the history of Kerala that the Governor has sought the resignation of nine Vice Chancellors (VCs). The only legal battle was waged by Dr PS Sreejith, former Dean of Cochin University College of Engineering and Technology (Cusat) and current Principal of Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology, this unusual behavior has occurred.
The Supreme Court canceled the appointment of APJ Abdul Kalam Kerala Technological University (KTU) Vice-Chancellor MS Rajasree at the end of this legal battle. It is also the first time in the state that the VC appointment has been canceled after a court order.
The legal battle started by Sreejith in the High Court against the appointment of the VC of the technical university has ended with a major victory in the Supreme Court.
Dr. Sreejith shares his thoughts on ‘Manorama Online Premium’ on a separate order of the Governor, following the Supreme Court verdict.
This decision is considered historic. What circumstances led to this legal battle?
I saw applications being made for the position of KTU VC when I was working at Cusat as a dean in 2018. I also applied for that. I was nominated and called for an interview. They rejected it for the first time and then postponed the inquiry. I was called again, but the interview ended again. I knew that the search committee had been disbanded at that time. Then a new advertisement was issued and a new search committee was formed. Work started again from the beginning.
I asked again. This time, they didn’t care about me at all. Later I came to know about the appointment of MS Rajasree as KTU Chancellor in February 2019 from newspapers. I understood that they ignored me. Because if they have selected me in the first post, it makes sense for me to reconsider in the second one. Not only me but others in the first row were ignored. Later, I filed several RTI applications for this. But I didn’t get an answer for most of them. Although I asked about the original search committee and the awards they gave, I didn’t say anything for different reasons.
How did you approach the High Court?
While filing the RTI application, I shared this issue with fellow counsel Syam Krishnan. At that time I realized that even though the rules say that the search committee should give a group of three names to the CEO for the Deputy position, only one name was given. I have read and understood the UGC rules very well. I understand the requirement that experts from the Higher Education Sector should be on the search committee, which has not been achieved.
The search committee consists of three members headed by the Chief Secretary. Under these circumstances, the will of the government comes into play in the decision. We decided to raise these two as the main arguments. Although a petition was filed in the Single Bench of the Kerala High Court in 2019, the court said that the appointment as per the rules of the University was illegal. My petition was denied. Even though it went to the Division Bench, it rejected my petition on the same grounds.
When you moved to the Supreme Court.
When both Benches of the Kerala High Court rejected my petition, I refused to approach the Supreme Court. However, my referee encouraged me. He said that we are very strong, so we should approach the high court. So, we moved the Supreme Court earlier this year. Three friends of Syam Krishnan pleaded the case there.
You have done a lot of research on the case.
UGC rules came from the internet. Several requests were made under the RTI Act after which the information received was shared with the respondents. This is how I got the bio data of MS Rajasree and other information. And I knew I had fewer symptoms. Although I asked to know the symptoms, I did not receive any response.
However, I realized in the first row that I was the front runner. I’m not arguing or arguing about it. The recent judgments of the Supreme Court in the cases of the Governments of West Bengal and Gujarat have greatly helped this decision. These cases were also referred in the SC order in my case.
When you raised the issue with the search committee, did you think these results would go far?
To be honest, no. I have heard that in many other universities, one person’s name was sent instead of a group. But I wasn’t really bothered by those. My only goal is to fight my case. They sat quietly next to me. Many research papers and my PhD made me well qualified for the VC post. I still believe my bio-data is one of the best.
It really hurt me when I was ignored despite all this. That’s my only issue. I felt I had to respond to this. In our country, there are few qualifications required for appointment to government related positions. The current system is so sad that it doesn’t even consider those who are qualified.
Has anyone ever urged you to back out of a legal battle?
Not at all. No one expected me to go and fight my case. Many people thought that I would not go ahead when the High Court rejected the petition. They also knew that I had moved the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court’s decision on the case appeared in the newspapers and my name was mentioned in it.
You are behind a decision that affects the most important products in the history of the government. What do you think?
I never thought it would have such a big impact. I did not know that the decision of the case would affect these many vice principals. Although, I learned about it only when I watched it on TV yesterday evening. To be honest, I was very surprised. Now a big part of me knows that I don’t want to be a VC; more than that if I had climbed the pole.