The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday set aside the reappointment of Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee as vice-chancellor of Calcutta University, holding that the West Bengal government has no authority to do so as per provisions of the varsity’s Act.
Passing judgement on a PIL by an alumnus of the university challenging the reappointment of Banerjee, the court held that the government order dated August 27, 2021 issued by a special secretary cannot be sustained.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice R Bharadwaj ordered that the state had no authority to appoint or reappoint the vice-chancellor either under Section 8 of the Calcutta University Act or by taking recourse to the residuary Section 60 of the Act.
Oral prayers for a stay of operation of the order by lawyers representing the state government and Banerjee were rejected.
Banerjee was appointed as vice-chancellor of Calcutta University on August 28, 2017, for four years and her term had expired on August 27, 2021. Her tenure was extended by three months by the Chancellor with a rider that the selection process would commence and the vice-chancellor would be appointed by following the due process.
Thereafter, a notification dated August 27, 2021, was issued under the signature of the special secretary of the West Bengal government’s Higher Education Department, whereby Banerjee was reappointed as vice-chancellor of Calcutta University with effect from August 28, 2021, for four years.
Counsel for the petitioner claimed that the state government has no power to reappoint the vice-chancellor as the power to appoint/reappoint lies with the Chancellor.
Opposing the prayer, Advocate General S N Mookherjee submitted that appointment and reappointment stand on a different footing.
He said that the reappointing authority is the state, and even if the Chancellor is the reappointing authority, he has no discretion if the recommendation is sent by the state after satisfaction.
He stated that since the Chancellor was not taking any action on the recommendation sent to him, therefore, the state had no option but to pass the order reappointing Banerjee.
Jagdeep Dhankhar was the then ex-officio Chancellor of the university.