Thiruvananthapuram: Expressing his strong displeasure with what he called the "ordinance raj" in the state, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan said on 8 August that he could not give his assent to as many as 11 ordinances that were about to lapse, without applying his mind on the matter and getting a proper explanation from the government.
Speaking to reporters in Delhi, the governor decried the practice of coming up with ordinances and promulgating them without getting them ratified by the state legislature.
Khan also sought an explanation from the Kannur University vice-chancellor on alleged irregularities in the appointment of Priya Varghese, the wife of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary KK Ragesh, as an associate professor in the Malayalam department.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan's reason
"Ruling through ordinances is not something that is desirable in a democracy. I will apply my mind and decide whether I should sign or not," Khan said when asked about his position on the ordinances. He said that the Supreme Court had made strictures against the practice of promulgation of ordinances. He wondered why the state legislature was elected if the government wanted to rule through ordinances.
The governor examined documents related to her appointment and found a "shocking violation" of the University Grants Commission norms; V-C Gopinath Ravindran has been asked to submit an explanation within 10 days. Gopinath was re-appointed for a period of four years in November after the government issued a notification and appointed a selection committee to choose a new V-C. The government allegedly insisted on his re-appointment, for which higher education minister R Bindhu also wrote a letter to the governor.
The governor is upset because of the political interference and nepotism in key posts in Kerala universities, the sources said, adding that Khan plans to take strict action against the V-C.
Sensing trouble, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has asked its leaders not to make any comments on the issue.
The beginning of the controversy
A controversy erupted last November when Varghese was awarded the first rank in an interview held for the recruitment of an associate professor, allegedly bypassing more experienced and qualified teachers.
There was an allegation that the V-C’s four-year term was extended as a reward for facilitating the appointment of the CPI (M) leader’s wife. Though the governor expressed serious reservations over giving an extension to the Kannur V-C, the government reportedly pressurised him to sign the re-appointment order promising that there would not be any political interference in varsity administration.
Last year, the Save University Campaign committee, a whistleblower in the higher education sector, wrote several petitions to the governor pointing out ‘too many political appointments’ bypassing eligible candidates.
What are the rules of appointment at universities?
As per UGC guidelines, the required qualification for an associate professor is a PhD degree and eight years of teaching experience. However, the campaign Committee claimed that Varghese had only one month of teaching experience after getting her PhD.
Last April, the Kerala high court quashed the appointment of party legislator AN Shamseer’s wife Shahala as the assistant professor at Kannur University after one of the candidates approached the court. “Politics is the only criteria for appointments in varsities these days. Often, experienced and more qualified are bypassed in the process,” said campaign committee leader RS Sasi Kumar.
Governor-CM truce fails
The governor made the comments even though the Kerala government had reportedly assured the Raj Bhavan that a special session of the Assembly would be held in October to convert all ordinances into legislation.
Recently, the Kerala government had appointed a commission to suggest reforms to university rules. The commission had recommended curtailing the powers of the chancellor — the governor is the ex-officio holder of this post — of state varsities in matters requiring legal expertise as well as those in which his or her discretionary powers are to be used.
According to sources, the government will soon come out with an ordinance incorporating the commission's recommendations which would curtail the Governor's role as Chancellor. However, Khan refused to react to the development saying he was not aware of such a move.