SC Appoints Ex-CJI UU Lalit to Lead Committee for VC Appointments in West Bengal

Ex-CJI UU Lalit

The Supreme Court on Monday appointed former Chief Justice of India U. U. Lalit to lead a search-cum-selection committee responsible for overseeing the appointments of vice-chancellors for state-run universities in West Bengal.

The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) government has an ongoing conflict with the state Governor C. V. Ananda Bose, who also serves as the chancellor of the state-run universities, regarding the governance of the state’s universities. A bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and Ujjal Bhuyan ordered that the committee be constituted within two weeks, noting that both the state and the governor’s office agreed on the formation of the panel.

Committee Structure and Responsibilities

The committee will also include five members who will prepare a panel of three names in alphabetical order for the appointment of vice-chancellors in each university. The prescribed time for completing the entire process is three months, as stated by the apex court.

The committee’s recommendations, endorsed by the chairperson, will be presented to the chief minister. If the chief minister finds any candidate unsuitable, the supporting material and remarks will be forwarded to the chancellor (governor) within two weeks, the bench stated. The committee’s remuneration will be borne by the state, with former CJI Lalit receiving Rs three lakh per effective meeting.

The West Bengal Assembly had passed an amendment bill increasing the number of members in the search committee for appointing vice-chancellors in state-run universities from three to five. The BJP opposed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023, alleging that the new search committee would further enhance the ruling party’s control over the appointment of vice-chancellors.

The top court was hearing an appeal by the West Bengal government against the June 28, 2023, order of the Calcutta High Court, which stated there was no illegality in the orders issued by the West Bengal governor appointing interim vice-chancellors in 11 state-run universities in his capacity as the ex-officio chancellor of these institutions.

In October 2023, the top court had stayed the emoluments of the newly appointed interim vice-chancellors and asked the governor to meet with the chief minister “over a cup of coffee” to resolve the deadlock over the appointment of vice-chancellors.

Need for Reconciliation

The apex court emphasized the need for reconciliation between the governor and the chief minister “in the interest of educational institutions and the future careers of lakhs of students.”

Sanat Kumar Ghosh, a petitioner who moved the high court, and the West Bengal government claimed the orders appointing vice-chancellors to state-run universities were illegal as the governor had not consulted the higher education department before making the appointments.

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