The cancellation of Dr R Gopinath Raveendran’s reappointment adds a significant chapter to Kerala’s ongoing political and legal dynamics. Supreme Court (SC), on November 30, 2023, cancelled the reappointment of Kannur Varsity Vice Chancellor Dr. R. Gopinath Raveendran. The verdict was given by the Bench presided by Justice DY Chandrachud, the Honourable Chief Justice of Bharat. The verdict came out after the legal fights, which lasted for two years and started in November 2021.
During the hearing, the Court asked the state government if a person over the age of 60 could be reappointed as VC. Apparently, Kannur University Rules do not permit the appointment of a VC if the appointee is over 60years old. The petition against the reappointment was filed by Kannur Varsity Senate member Dr. Premachandran Keezhoth and Academic Council Member Shino P. Jose. As their petition was dismissed by the High Court, they moved to SC.
SC ruled that the governor, as the appointment authority, was under external pressure. He, in his capacity of Chancellor of the universities, should enjoy the power to appoint VC.
Reacting to the verdict, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan told reporters that he was under pressure from the government for the reappointment. CM’s legal advisor and personal secretary met him at Raj Bhavan and pressed for the appointment. When he pointed out the legal hindrance in the matter, a paper, said to be the favourable opinion of Advocate General was presented before him; Governor pointed out that it was unsigned; then a signed document was brought.
Meanwhile, Higher Education Minister R Bindu reportedly sent a letter to the Governor in this respect. Since the governor did not agree, the chief minister himself visited the governor and said that Kannur Varsity belongs to his constituency and his home district as well; therefore, he wanted Gopinath Raveendran to be reappointed. When the controversy picked up those days, Governor had revealed these incidents before the media.
Apparently, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala had moved Lokayuktha, alleging that R Bindu’s interference was not proper, misuse of power and violation of oath of office. But Lokayukta Chief Justice Cyriac Joseph rejected Chennithala’s petition. He stated that it cannot be construed as a misuse of power, and there was nothing wrong in proposing a name in her capacity as the Pro Chancellor.
Union Minister V Muraleedharan told the media that the SC verdict is a blow to the nepotism of CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government. He said, the VC’s first term appointment itself was not proper. Instead of the selection from the panel of three candidates, the selection was made from a one-man panel. He referred to the controversial appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of CM’s private secretary, in the university as the Associate Professor in Malayalam department.
One student leader said that students welcome the SC verdict. He alleged that the VC had initiated the appointment of Priya Varghese and the wife of CPM leader A.N. Shamseer, the present Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
Referring to the verdict, well-known political commentator Adv. Jayasankar welcomed the verdict. He referred to the inappropriate appointments that took place under the VC. Even though he did not mention any names, he was obviously referring to the appointment of Priya Varghese.
Last year, SC cancelled the appointment of Dr MS Rajasree as the VC of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU). Still Government of Kerala did not bother to comply with the UGC rules.
Dr. K.S. Radhakrishnan, former VC of Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in Kalady, a university can only operate as per the rules of UGC. He alleged that LDF regime has been destroying the higher education sector in the state and universities do not have permanent VCs as they (government) are not ready to comply with the UGC regulations hence party comrades’ wives are getting jobs, he alleged. He again alleged that the new University Bills are to keep the Governor from the Chancellorship.
It is to be recalled that Governor had called the unseated VC a criminal. He accused that VC planned an attack on him when he was invited to the university while anti Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) agitations were going on. The venue was of the Indian History Congress at Kannur Varsity in 2019.