State of West Bengal Vs. Anindya Sundar Das & Ors.

State of West Bengal Vs. Anindya Sundar Das & Ors.

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


1
Reportable
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
Civil Appeal No. 6706 of 2022
State of West Bengal …Appellant
Vs.
Anindya Sundar Das & Ors. …Respondents
And with
Civil Appeal No 6707 of 2022
J U D G M E N T
Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J
1. By its judgment dated 13 September 2022, a Division Bench of the High
Court at Calcutta allowed a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution seeking a
writ of quo warranto against the Vice-Chancellor1 of Calcutta University. The High
Court held that the State government had no authority to appoint or re-appoint the
1 VC
2
VC under Section 8 of the Calcutta University Act 19792 or by taking recourse to
the residuary provisions of Section 60 of the Act. As a consequence, the order
issued by the Special Secretary to the Government of West Bengal on 27 August
2021 re-appointing the incumbent VC of Calcutta University was set aside. The
High Court has held that the VC had no authority to hold that office on the basis of
the order of appointment. Both the State of West Bengal and Dr Sonali Chakravarti
Banerjee, the VC whose appointment has been set aside, are in appeal.
2. By a notification dated 28 August 2017, the Chancellor of Calcutta University
appointed Professor Dr Sonali Chakravarti Banerjee as the VC of Calcutta
University. The notification was in exercise of the powers conferred by Section
8(1)(a) read with Section 8(2)(a) of the Act. The term of appointment was for a
period of four years with effect from the date on which she joined office or until she
attained the age of sixty-five or until further orders, whichever is the earliest.
3. The term of office of the VC was to end on 27 August 2021. The State
government in the Higher Education Department submitted proposals for the reappointment of the VC for a period of four years to the Chancellor on 4 June 2021
and 17 June 2021 which were not accepted as the Chancellor sought certain
clarifications.
4. On 17 August 2021, the Chancellor suo moto accorded an extension to the
tenure of the VC for a period of three months under Section 8(2)(b) of the Act.
5. The State government issued a notification on 27 August 2021 stating that:
2 the Act
3
(i) While extending the tenure of the VC, the Chancellor had invoked
Section 8(2)(b) without consultation with the Minister, which was
mandatory;
(ii) The step taken by the Chancellor of the University was void ab initio,
particularly in light of provisions of Rule 9 of the West Bengal State
Universities (Terms and Conditions of Service of the Vice Chancellors
and the Manner and Procedure of Official Communication) Rules 2019;
(iii) The Chancellor of the University had not agreed with the proposal of the
State government and initiated a step without fulfilling the requisite legal
pre-condition of consultation with the Minister;
(iv) The provisions of the Act are “silent to deal with the situation”;
(v) The State government “has no other option but to invoke the provisions
of Section 60”; and
(vi) The incumbent VC was being re-appointed with effect from 28 August
2021 for a period of four years or until she attains the age of seventy,
whichever is earlier, in terms of the provisions of Section 60 read with
Section 8(2)(b) of the Act as amended in 2019.
6. The order of the State government re-appointing the VC was questioned in
a public interest petition instituted by an alumnus of Calcutta University who is also
a practicing advocate. The submissions before the High Court in support of the
petition under Article 226 were that:
(i) The State government had no power to re-appoint the VC since both the
power to appoint and re-appoint is vested with the Chancellor;
4
(ii) In terms of Section 8(6), the procedure which is prescribed in Section
8(1) for initial appointment has to be followed for the purpose of reappointment as well;
(iii) The amended provisions of Section 8(2) do not constitute a complete
code and the entire section has to be interpreted;
(iv) The provisions of the Act could not have been by-passed by invoking
Section 60;
(v) The re-appointment of the VC without following the procedure prescribed
in Section 8(1) eliminates competition and was in contravention of Article
14 of the Constitution;
(vi) The appointment of the VC by the State was contrary to the UGC
(Minimum qualifications for appointment of teachers and other academic
staff in University and Colleges and measures for the maintenance of
standards in Higher Education) Regulations 2018.
3
7. The petition was opposed on behalf of the State government by submitting
that:
(i) In terms of the unamended provisions of Section 8, the procedure
prescribed in sub-Section (1) has to be followed for re-appointment;
(ii) This position was altered by the 2019 amendment to the Act;
(iii) The appointment and re-appointment of a VC stand on a different footing
and the power of reappointment is vested with the State government and
not the Chancellor;
3 UGC Regulations
5
(iv) Even if the Chancellor is the re-appointing authority, he has no discretion
once a recommendation is made by the State government upon its
satisfaction; and
(v) Since the Chancellor has not taken any action in terms of Section 8
(2)(a), the State government had no option but to re-appoint the
incumbent VC by taking recourse to the provisions of Section 60.
8. The incumbent VC who had been re-appointed by the State government
was impleaded as a party to the proceeding and urged that:
(i) There is a distinction in law between appointment and re-appointment
because in the case of the latter, the zone of consideration is restricted
to persons already holding the post and in such cases the suitability of
the incumbent which was assessed at the time of initial appointment
need not be reassessed;
(ii) In the case of a re-appointment, Section 8(2)(a) prescribes that academic
excellence and administrative success are the only factors which are to
be taken into consideration for re-appointment and the procedure which
is prescribed by Section 8(1) is not attracted; and
(iii) No writ of quo warranto can be issued where the suitability of the VC for
re-appointment is sought to be questioned.
9. The Division Bench of the High Court relied upon the judgments of this court
in Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha v. Dhobei Sahoo4 and Bharati
4 (2014) 1 SCC 161
6
Reddy v. State of Karnataka5 and noted that a writ of quo warranto can be issued
when:
(i) A person holding public office lacks eligibility criteria prescribed for such
appointment; and
(ii) The appointment is made contrary to the statutory provisions or rules.
10. The reasons adduced by the High Court in support of its judgment were:
(i) Under Section 7(1), the Governor of the State of West Bengal is the
Chancellor of the University;
(ii) Section 8(1)(b) confers the powers of appointment on the Chancellor;
(iii) Under Section 8(2)(b), the Chancellor has the power to continue the VC
after the expiration of the term of his office up to a period of two years or
until the attainment of the age of 70 years whichever is earlier;
(iv) In terms of Section 8(5), a temporary appointment of the VC may be
made by the Chancellor; and
(v) Section 8(7) empowers the Chancellor to remove the VC on satisfaction
of prescribed conditions.
On the above premises, the Division Bench held that the scheme of Section 8
empowers only the Chancellor to appoint, re-appoint, temporarily appoint or
remove the VC. In other words, the State government has no power to appoint or
re-appoint the VC. The High Court held that Section 60 to which recourse was
taken by the State government provides only for the removal of difficulties arising
in giving effect to the provisions of the statute.
5 (2018) 6 SCC 162
7
11. Apart from the reasoning based on the provisions of the Act, the Division
Bench held that the UGC Regulations envisage that the appointment of a VC can
be made only by a Visitor / Chancellor. This in the view of the High Court came in
the way of the State government making the appointment and, in this context, it
relied upon a judgment of this Court in Ghambirdan K Gadhvi v. State of
Gujarat.
6
12. On behalf of the petitioners before the High Court, it was urged during the
course of those proceedings that the same procedure which was provided for
appointment of a VC under Section 8(1) was required to be followed at the time of
re-appointment. On the other hand, the State government relied on the amended
provisions of Section 8(2)(a). On this point, the High Court disagreed with the
petitioner and noted that amended Section 8(2)(a) which provides for the reappointment of a VC for another term does not require that the procedure
prescribed in Section 8(1) should be followed for re-appointment. In the
amendment of 2019, the expression “following the provisions of sub-Section (1)”
were deleted from Section 8(2)(a). The High Court did not therefore subscribe to
the submission of the petitioner before it that the same procedure was required to
be followed for the re-appointment of a VC as prescribed for the purpose of
appointment in Section 8(1).
13. However, ultimately, on the basis of its analysis, the High Court held that the
State government had no authority to re-appoint the VC either under Section 8 or
by taking recourse to the provisions of Section 60 and consequently held that the
6 (2022) 5 SCC 179
8
notification of 27 August 2021 was contrary to law. It is on that basis, that the reappointment of the VC has been set aside.
14. Before we summarize the rival submissions and proceed to analyse them, it
is necessary to advert to the salient provisions of the Act bearing upon the
controversy.
15. Section 7(1) stipulates that the Governor shall by virtue of his office be the
Chancellor of the University and shall be the head of the University and the
President of the Senate.
16. Section 8 provides for the VC. Section 8(1)(a) stipulates the conditions of
eligibility for appointment as a VC in the following terms:
“8(1)(a) The Vice-chancellor shall be a distinguished
academic with proven competence and integrity, and
having a minimum of ten years of experience in a
University system of which at least five years shall be as
a professor or ten years of experience in a reputed
research or academic administrative organization of which
at least five years shall be in an equivalent position of
professor.”
Section 8(1)(b) provides for the procedure for the appointment of a VC:
“8(1)(b). The Vice Chancellor shall be appointed by the
Chancellor out of the panel of three names recommended
in order of preference by the Search Committee
constituted by the State Government. While preparing the
panel, the Search Committee must give proper weightage
to academic excellence, exposure to the higher education
system in the country and abroad and adequate
experience in academic and administrative governance
and reflect the same in writing while submitting the panel
to the Chancellor.”
Clause (c) of Section 8(1) provides for the constitution of a search committee. In
2019, the State legislature enacted the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment)
Act 2019. The amended Act was assented to by the Governor of West Bengal and
was published in the official Gazette on 27 August 2019. As a result of the
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amending enactment, amendments were made to the seven state enactments
governing state universities. Section 8(2)(a) as it stood prior to the amendment
which was brought about in 2019, was in the following terms:
“(2)(a) The Vice-chancellor shall hold office for a term of
four years or till he attains the age of sixty-five years,
whichever is earlier, and shall be eligible for reappointment for another term of four years or till he attains
the age of sixty-five years, whichever is earlier, following
the provisions of sub-section (1).”
Sub-Section (2) of Section 8 as amended reads as follows:
“(2)(a) The Vice-Chancellor shall hold office for a period of
four years appointed as such in terms of the provisions of
sub-section (1), and shall be eligible for reappointment for
another term of four years subject to the satisfaction of the
State Government and on the basis of his past academic
excellence and administrative success established during
his term of office in the capacity of Vice-Chancellor, or till
he attains the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.”
Section 8(2)(b) as amended is in the following terms:
“8(2)(b) The Chancellor may, notwithstanding the
expiration of the term of the office of the Vice-Chancellor,
allow him to continue in office for a period not more than
two years at a time in consultation with the Minister, which
shall under no circumstances be extended beyond the age
of seventy years, subject to the satisfaction of the State
Government and on the basis of his past academic
excellence and administrative success established during
his term of office in the capacity of Vice-Chancellor.”
Sub-Sections (5) and (6) of the Section 8 as amended read thus:
“8(2)(5) If –
(a) the Vice-Chancellor is, by reasons of leave, illness or other
cause, temporarily unable to exercise the powers and
perform the duties of his office, or
(b) a vacancy occurs in the office of the Vice-Chancellor by
reason of death, resignation, removal, expiry of term of his
office or otherwise,
then, during the period of such temporary inability or
pending the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor, as the case
may be, the Chancellor in consultation with the Minister
10
may appoint a person to exercise the powers and perform
the duties of the Vice-Chancellor.
(6) The vacancy in the office of the Vice-Chancellor
occurring by reason of death, resignation or expiry of the
term of his office, removal or otherwise shall be filled up
by appointment of a Vice-Chancellor in accordance with
the provisions of sub-section (1) within a period of six
months from the date of occurrence of the vacancy, and
such period shall be held to include any period for which a
Vice-Chancellor is allowed to continue in consultation with
the Minister to exercise the powers and perform the duties
of the Vice-Chancellor under sub-section (5).”
17. In the present case, the notification issued by the State government
reappointing the VC specifically notes that the proposal submitted by it for
reappointment of the VC was not accepted by the Chancellor:
“Whereas, the State Government in the Higher
Education Department, considering the above, had
submitted the proposal of reappointment of Prof. (Dr)
Chakravarti Banerjee before the Hon’ble Chancellor of
the University for a period of four years, on two
occasions firstly on 04.06.2021 and secondly on
17.06.2021. However, Hon’ble Chancellor of the
University did not accept the proposal given by the
Higher Education Department and sought certain
clarifications on some issues not related directly with the
subject matter…”
18. In its counter affidavit filed before the High Court, the State government
submitted that in accordance with the amended provisions of the Act, the State
government considering “the past academic excellence and the administrative
success” of the incumbent VC recommended her re-appointment for a further term
of four years or until she attains the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier. The State
government submitted that since the VC had already been appointed for an earlier
term there was no requirement of a fresh search committee for the purpose of a
reappointment. However, according to the State government, the Chancellor was
not in agreement with the interpretation of the amended provisions since the State
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government opined that when a reappointment was proposed under amended
Section 8(2)(a) there was no necessity of undergoing a further selection process.
The State government urged that Section 8(2)(a) only postulates satisfaction of the
State government and does not require the concurrence of the Chancellor. In other
words, according to the State government, it has unfettered rights in the matter of
reappointment to the post of VC. This submission has been rejected by the High
Court.
19. Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of
the State of West Bengal urged that:
(i) The power conferred by Section 8(5) on the Chancellor to appoint a
person to exercise the powers and perform the duties of the VC during
the period of the temporary inability of an incumbent VC or pending the
appointment of a VC applies only when the power of reappointment has
not been exercised under Section 8(2)(a);
(ii) Likewise, Section 8(6) applies only when the power to reappoint under
Section 8(2)(a) has not been exercised;
(iii) Section 8(2)(a) clearly specifies that a VC shall be eligible for
reappointment for another term of four years subject to the satisfaction
of the State government and on the basis of their past academic
excellence and administrative success during the term of office as a VC;
(iv) Unamended Section 8(2)(a) stipulated that a VC would be eligible for
reappointment for a period not exceeding four years “following the
provisions of sub-section (1)”; and
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(v) In the amended provisions of Section 8(2)(a), the expression ““following
the provisions of sub-section (1)” was conspicuously deleted as a result
of which the procedure prescribed in Section 8(1) for the appointment of
a VC does not apply to a reappointment.
20. On the other hand, the petitioner before the High Court, submitted that:
(i) Section 8(2)(a) does not take away the power of the Chancellor to
appoint a VC under Section 8(1)(b);
(ii) In effecting the reappointment of a VC, the procedure which is prescribed
by sub-Section (1) of Section 8 of constituting a Search Committee needs
to be followed;
(iii) The UGC Regulations clearly stipulate that the appointment of a VC has
to be made by the Chancellor;
(iv) In terms of Section 7, the Chancellor is the head of the University;
(v) Section 8(2)(a) provides for the satisfaction of the State government
coupled with the eligibility of a VC for reappointment. But this does not
take away the power of the Chancellor to make the appointment; and
(vi) As a matter of fact, it was on the premise that the power to reappoint
vests with the Chancellor that the file pertaining to the reappointment of
the VC was forwarded to the Chancellor by the State government.
21. Mr Jaideep Gupta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the VC
submitted that:
(i) Section 8(6) does not stand with Section 8(2) because in terms of Section
8(6) the appointment of a VC is to be made in accordance with the
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provisions of sub-Section (1) in terms of which the three-member search
committee has to be constituted;
(ii) The judgment of the High Court in the present case specifically holds that
the procedure which is prescribed by Section 8(1)(b) of constituting the
search committee does not apply to a reappointment; and
(iii) Section 8 envisages distinct situations namely:
a. Appointment of a VC by the Chancellor out of a panel of three names
recommended by the Search Committee constituted by the State
government;
b. Reappointment in respect of which the power is vested in the State
government under Section 8(2)(a);
c. Extension of the term of a VC beyond the expiration of the term of
office under Section 8(2)(b) by the Chancellor in consultation with the
Minister;
d. A temporary appointment of the VC which is made by the Chancellor
in consultation with the Minister under Section 8(5).
22. These rival submissions would need to be analyzed. However, before we
enter into a substantive analysis of the submissions, it would be appropriate to deal
with the procedural objection regarding the limits of the writ of quo warranto.
23. Through a line of cases, this Court has laid out the terms on which the writ
of quo warranto may be exercised. In University of Mysore v C.D. Govindra Rao,
14
a Constitution Bench of this Court, speaking through Justice Gajendragadkar (as
he then was), held that:7
6. […]
Broadly stated, the quo warranto proceeding affords a
judicial enquiry in which any person holding an
independent substantive public office, or franchise, or
liberty, is called upon to show by what right he holds the
said office, franchise or liberty; if the inquiry leads to the
finding that the holder of the office has no valid title to it,
the issue of the writ of quo warranto ousts him from that
office. In other words, the procedure of quo warranto
confers jurisdiction and authority on the judiciary to
control executive action in the matter of making
appointments to public offices against the relevant
statutory provisions; it also protects a citizen from being
deprived of public office to which he may have a right. It
would thus be seen that if these proceedings are
adopted subject to the conditions recognized in that
behalf, they tend to protect the public from usurpers of
public office; in some cases, persons, not entitled to
public office may be allowed to occupy them and to
continue to hold them as a result of the connivance of
the executive or with its active help, and in such cases,
if the jurisdiction of the courts to issue writ of quo
warranto is properly invoked, the usurper can be ousted
and the person entitled to the post allowed to occupy it.
It is thus clear that before a citizen can claim a writ of
quo warranto, he must satisfy the court, inter alia,
that the office in question is a public office and is
held by usurper without legal authority, and that
necessarily leads to the enquiry as to whether the
appointment of the said alleged usurper has been
made in accordance with law or not.
(emphasis supplied)
24. In High Court of Gujarat v. Gujarat Kishan Mazdoor Panchayat,
8 in his
concurring opinion in a three judge Bench, Justice SB Sinha, held that:
22. The High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction in a
matter of this nature is required to determine at the
7 (1964) 4 SCR 575
8 (2003) 4 SCC 712
15
outset as to whether a case has been made out for
issuance of a writ of certiorari or a writ of quo warranto.
The jurisdiction of the High Court to issue a writ of quo
warranto is a limited one. While issuing such a writ, the
Court merely makes a public declaration but will not
consider the respective impact on the candidates or
other factors which may be relevant for issuance of a writ
of certiorari. (See R.K. Jain v. Union of India, SCC para
74.)
23. A writ of quo warranto can only be issued when the
appointment is contrary to the statutory rules. (See Mor
Modern Coop. Transport Society Ltd. v. Financial
Commr. & Secy. to Govt. of Haryana.)
25. In B. Srinivasa Reddy v. Karnataka Urban Water Supply & Drainage
Board Employees’ Assn.,
9 the limitations of the writ of quo warranto were
elaborated upon by a two judge Bench of this Court. The court observed:
“49. […] The jurisdiction of the High Court to issue a
writ of quo warranto is a limited one which can only
be issued when the appointment is contrary to the
statutory rules.
[…]
51. It is settled law by a catena of decisions that the
court cannot sit in judgment over the wisdom of the
Government in the choice of the person to be
appointed so long as the person chosen possesses
the prescribed qualification and is otherwise eligible
for appointment. This Court in R.K. Jain v. Union of
India [(1993) 4 SCC 119] was pleased to hold that the
evaluation of the comparative merits of the candidates
would not be gone into a public interest litigation and only
in a proceeding initiated by an aggrieved person, may it
be open to be considered. It was also held that in service
jurisprudence it is settled law that it is for the aggrieved
person, that is, the non-appointee to assail the legality or
correctness of the action and that a third party has no
locus standi to canvass the legality or correctness of the
action. Further, it was declared that public law
declaration would only be made at the behest of a publicspirited person coming before the court as a petitioner…”
9 (2006) 11 SCC 731
16
(emphasis supplied)
26. In Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha v. Dhobei Sahoo10, another
two judge Bench of this Court reiterated that:
21. […] the jurisdiction of the High Court while
issuing a writ of quo warranto is a limited one and
can only be issued when the person holding the
public office lacks the eligibility criteria or when the
appointment is contrary to the statutory rules. That
apart, the concept of locus standi which is strictly
applicable to service jurisprudence for the purpose of
canvassing the legality or correctness of the action
should not be allowed to have any entry, for such
allowance is likely to exceed the limits of quo warranto
which is impermissible. The basic purpose of a writ of
quo warranto is to confer jurisdiction on the
constitutional courts to see that a public office is not
held by usurper without any legal authority.
(emphasis supplied)
27. More recently, in Bharati Reddy v. State of Karnataka11, a three judge
Bench of this Court, of which one of us (Justice DY Chandrachud) was a part,
noted the line of precedent clarifying the remit of the writ of quo warranto.
28. Through these decisions, the Court has settled the position that the writ of
quo warranto can be issued where an appointment has not been made in
accordance with the law. Accordingly, the rival contentions must be analyzed by
dealing with the scheme of the statutory provisions governing the appointment and
reappointment of the VC.
29. Section 8 of the Act envisages several situations:
10 Supra
11 Supra
17
(i) Appointment of a VC (Section 8(1)(b));
(ii) Reappointment of a VC (Section 8(2)(a));
(iii) Continuation of the term of a VC upon the expiry of the term of office
(Section 8(2)(b)); and
(iv) Appointment of a person to exercise the powers and perform the duties
of the VC, occasioned by
a. The temporary inability of the VC to exercise the powers and perform
the duties of the office by reasons of leave, illness or other causes;
and
b. A vacancy occurring in the office of VC upon the death, resignation,
removal, expiry of term of office or otherwise. (Section 8(5)).
30. Section 8 makes provisions for firstly, the conditions of eligibility for holding
the office of a VC; secondly, the term for which the office would be held; thirdly, the
procedure for appointment; and fourthly, who has the power to make the
appointment.
31. The conditions of eligibility for holding the post of VC are stipulated in
Section 8(1)(a) namely (i) a distinguished academic with proven competency and
integrity; (ii) (a) minimum of ten years of experience in a University system of which
at least five years shall be as a professor; or (b) ten years of experience in a
reputed research or academic administrative organization of which at least five
years shall be in a position equivalent to a professor.
32. The term of office of a VC, including in the case of a reappointment, is four
years or until the attainment of the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier. Where the
term of office of a VC has expired, Section 8(2)(b) postulates that, notwithstanding
18
the expiration of the term, the VC may be allowed to continue in office for a period
not exceeding two years at a time but such an extension shall not be granted
beyond the age of 70. In case of a temporary inability of an incumbent VC due to
leave, illness or other cause, Section 8(5)(a) contemplates the appointment of a
person to exercise the powers and perform the duties of that office during the
period of such temporary inability. Where a vacancy occurs by reason of death,
resignation, removal, expiry of the term of office or otherwise, a person may
likewise be appointed to exercise the powers and perform the duties of a VC
pending the appointment.
33. The procedure for appointing a VC is prescribed in clauses (b) and (c) of
Section 8(1). Clause (b) postulates that (i) a search committee has to be
constituted by the state government; (ii) the search committee has to prepare a
panel of three names in order of preference; (iii) in preparing the panel, the search
committee has to give proper weightage to academic excellence, exposure to the
higher education system in the country and abroad, adequate experience in
academic and administrative governance; (iv) the search committee has to reflect
its consideration of the above in writing while submitting the panel to the
Chancellor; and (v) the search committee has to consist of three persons as
stipulated in Section 8(1)(c).
34. In the case of a reappointment, the unamended provisions of Section 8(2)(a)
provided earlier that a VC would be eligible for reappointment for a period not
exceeding four years, “subject to the provisions of this section”. The provisions of
Section 8(2)(a) were substituted by the Amending Act of 2019. Section 8(2)(a) as
amended stipulates that a VC shall be eligible for reappointment for another term
19
of four years “subject to the satisfaction of the State government and on the basis
of his past academic excellence and administrative success established during his
term of office in the capacity of VC”.
35. In other words, Section 8(2)(a) establishes, firstly, the eligibility of a VC for
reappointment for another term of four years; the expression “another term”
signifying that the new term will be in addition to the earlier term of four years; and,
secondly, the requirement that the eligibility for reappointment would be subject to
the satisfaction of the State government on the basis of academic excellence and
administrative success during the period when the individual held office of VC.
Significantly, Section 8(2)(a) is a provision which prescribes the term, namely, the
initial term of four years and if an incumbent is reappointed, a further period of four
years. Moreover, Section 8(2)(a) stipulates the conditions subject to which the VC
would be eligible for reappointment for another term of four years.
36. Section 8(2)(a) is sought to be interpreted by the appellants as indicating
that the power of reappointment is taken away from the Chancellor and is entrusted
to the State government. This would be an incorrect reading of the statutory
provision. Section 8(2)(a) provides for (i) the term of office of a VC; (ii) eligibility for
reappointment; (iii) the term of office upon reappointment; (iv) the conditions
subject to which a person shall be eligible for reappointment; and (v) the outer age
limit of 70 years. The expression “subject to the satisfaction of the State
government” cannot by a process of inferential reasoning be construed to vest the
power of reappointment in the State government.
37. The provisions of Section 8 envisage diverse situations. While the eligibility
for appointment is indeed determined by the State government’s satisfaction, the
20
power of making the appointment continues to vest in the Chancellor in terms of
the provisions detailed below.
38. The Chancellor has been described in Section 7(1) as the head of the
University. The power of appointing a VC is vested by Section 8(1)(b) in the
Chancellor. That provision stipulates that “the VC shall be appointed by the
Chancellor”. Section 8(2)(b) empowers the Chancellor to allow a VC to continue,
notwithstanding the expiration of its term, for a period of not more than two years
at a time in consultation with the Minister. Here again, the continuation is “subject
to the satisfaction of the State government and on the basis of his past academic
excellence and administrative success” established during the term of office in the
capacity of VC. These words are in terms identical to those contained in Section
8(2)(a). Section 8(5) entrusts to the Chancellor the power to appoint the VC as a
result of the temporary inability of the VC to perform the duties of the office or
pending the appointment of the VC when a vacancy has arisen in the office.
39. The issue is whether the deletion of the expression “subject to the provisions
of this section” in the amended provisions of Section 8(2)(a) would lead to the
inference that the power of reappointment has been taken away from the
Chancellor and entrusted to the State government. The submission to that effect
which has been urged on behalf of the appellants cannot be accepted.
40. The effect of the words “subject to the provisions of this section” in Section
8(2)(a) in its unamended form was that the reappointment would have to be in a
manner provided in Section 8, which obviously included Section 8(1). Deletion of
those words in Section 8(2)(a), as amended, would mean that the procedure which
has been prescribed for making the appointment of a VC, namely the appointment
21
of a search committee and the preparation of a panel, would not be attracted in the
case of a reappointment. In the case of a reappointment, a VC who has completed
a term of four years would be eligible subject to the satisfaction of the State
government and on the basis of their past academic excellence and administrative
record during the term of office held as a VC. Significantly, Section 8(2)(a) speaks
of the satisfaction of the State government and past academic excellence and
administrative success during the term of office. Fulfilment of those conditions
makes a person eligible for being reappointed as a VC.
41. It is a settled principle of law that a statute must be read to avoid a
construction which would make certain provisions or terms meaningless or
redundant. In Union of India v Hansoli Devi,
12 a Constitution Bench of this Court
reiterated the dictum in the decision of the Constitution Bench in Aswini Kumar
Ghose v. Arabinda Bose,
13 that “it is not a sound principle of construction to brush
aside words in a statute as being inapposite surplusage, if they can have
appropriate application in circumstances conceivably within the contemplation of
the statute.” The Court in Hansoli Devi14 reiterated the decision of the Privy
Council in Quebec Railway, Light Heat & Power Co. Ltd. v. Vandry15 observing
that the “legislature is deemed not to waste its words or to say anything in vain and
a construction which attributes redundancy to the legislature will not be accepted
12 (2002) 7 SCC 273
13 1953 SCR 1
14 Supra
15 AIR 1920 PC 181
22
except for compelling reasons.” An effort must be made to read the provisions of
the statute in a holistic manner so as to imbue it with meaning and content.
42. There is neither an express provision nor a necessary intendment by which
it could be inferred that the power which is entrusted to the Chancellor to appoint
a VC is taken away in the case of a reappointment. There is no intrinsic reason or
rationale to accept the interpretation which has been urged on behalf of the State
of West Bengal. A reappointment is the appointment of an existing incumbent who
fulfils the conditions of eligibility. The fulfilment of the conditions makes a person
eligible for reappointment. The power of appointment including of reappointment is
entrusted to the Chancellor and not to the State government. The amended
provisions of Section 8(2)(a) cannot therefore be construed to mean that the power
of reappointment has been taken away from the Chancellor and entrusted to the
State government. Reading the provisions in such a manner, would make the
provisions entrusting the power of appointment of the VC with the Chancellor
redundant.
43. Moreover, in the present case, the State government itself made a reference
to the Chancellor when the issue as regards the reappointment of the VC came up.
Evidently as the State government stated before the High Court, the Chancellor
was in disagreement with the State government. Therefore, it is clear that the State
government was in agreement with the interpretation of the Act as laid out above.
44. The High Court has in the course of its judgment also extracted the
communication of the Chancellor dated 17 August 2021 which indicated that he
was not agreeable to such an appointment. While turning down the proposal to
reappoint the VC, the Chancellor had observed that:
23
“The proposal dated 4.6.2021 emanating from the State
Government seeking reappointment of Prof. Sonali
Chakravarti Banerjee, Vice Chancellor of Calcutta
University for second term of four years, is not in
consonance with the applicable statutory prescriptions
as is amply reflected in the note dated 2.8.2021. I need
to indicate here that without being a participant in
selection, and consequent selection, as incumbent Vice
Chancellor cannot get another term in view of section
8(2)(a) of the Calcutta University Act 1979.”
45. It would be appropriate to also analyse whether the re-appointment of the
VC has to follow the same process as a fresh appointment, by setting up a selection
committee under Section 8(1) of the Act, as indicated by the Chancellor.
46. Section 8(6) stipulates the manner in which a vacancy in the office of the VC
which occurs by reason of death, resignation, expiration of the term of office,
removal or otherwise shall be filled up. The provision indicates that such vacancy
shall be filled up in accordance with the provisions of sub-Section (1) of Section 8.
Section 8(6) has to be read in conjunction with Section 8(1) since the former
expressly refers to the latter. The reference to the provisions of sub-Section (1) for
filling up a vacancy on the expiration of the term of office will not obviously apply
to a case of reappointment because the procedure contemplated by Section 8(1)(b)
of a search committee would not attach to a reappointment. On this aspect, the
High Court has correctly disagreed with the petitioner before it and noted that
amended Section 8(2)(a) which provides for the re-appointment of a VC for another
term does not require that the procedure prescribed in Section 8(1) has to be
followed for re-appointment.
24
47. Faced with the view of the Chancellor, the State government attempted to
get around the situation by purporting to exercise its powers under Section 60.
Section 60 provides as follows:
“If on account of any lacuna or omission in the
provisions of this Act, or for any other reason
whatsoever, any difficulty arises as to the first
constitution of any authority of the University under this
Act, or otherwise in giving effect to the provisions of this
Act, the State Government, as occasion may require,
may by order do anything which appears to it to be
necessary for the purpose of removing the difficulty
notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained
elsewhere in this Act or in any other law.”
48. Section 60 contemplates a situation where inter alia any difficulty arises in
giving effect to the provisions of the Act “on account of any lacunae or omission” in
its provisions or for any other reason whatsoever. In such cases, the State
government is empowered, as the occasion may require, to do anything which
appears to it to be necessary for removing the difficulty notwithstanding anything
to the contrary contained elsewhere in the Act or any other law. Where there is a
specific provision, as in the present case Section 8(2)(a), it was not open to the
State government to conjure up a lacunae or omission and purportedly exercise
the power to remove difficulties. A “removal of difficulty clause” has been construed
in Madeva Upendra Sinai v. Union of India16, which reads as follows:
“39. To keep pace with the rapidly increasing responsibilities
of a welfare democratic State, the Legislature has to turn out
a plethora of hurried legislation, the volume of which is often
matched with its complexity. Under conditions of extreme
pressure, with heavy demands on the time of the Legislature
and the endurance and skill of the draftsman, it is well nigh
impossible to foresee all the circumstances to deal with which
a statute is enacted or to anticipate all the difficulties that
16 (1975) 3 SCC 765
25
might arise in its working due to peculiar local conditions or
even a local law. This is particularly true when Parliament
undertakes legislation which gives a new dimension to socioeconomic activities of the State or extends the existing Indian
laws to new territories or areas freshly merged in the Union
of India. In order to obviate the necessity of approaching the
Legislature for removal of every difficulty, howsoever trivial,
encountered in the enforcement of a statute, by going
through the time-consuming amendatory process, the
Legislature sometimes thinks it expedient to invest the
Executive with a very limited power to make minor
adaptations and peripheral adjustments in the statute, for
making its implementation effective, without touching its
substance. That is why the “removal of difficulty clause”, once
frowned upon and nick-named as “Henry VIII clause” in
scornful commemoration of the absolutist ways in which that
English King got the “difficulties” in enforcing his autocratic
will removed through the instrumentality of a servile
Parliament, now finds acceptance as a practical necessity, in
several Indian statutes of post-independence era.”
49. The State government chose the incorrect path under Section 60 by
misusing the “removal of difficulty clause” to usurp the power of the Chancellor to
make the appointment. A government cannot misuse the “removal of difficulty
clause” to remove all obstacles in its path which arise due to statutory restrictions.
Allowing such actions would be antithetical to the rule of law. Misusing the limited
power granted to make minor adaptations and peripheral adjustments in a statute
for making its implementation effective, to side-step the provisions of the statute
altogether would defeat the purpose of the legislation.
50. Accordingly, the High Court in our view was justified in coming to the
conclusion that “in the guise of removing the difficulties, the State cannot change
the scheme and essential provisions of the Act”.
51. In the view taken above on the construction of the provision of the Calcutta
University Act 1979, while it is not necessary to advert to the provisions of the UGC
Regulations which were also relied upon by the High Court in support of its
conclusion, for the purposes of completeness, they are dealt with as well.
26
52. The University Grants Commission (Minimum Qualifications for appointment
of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures
for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education) Regulations 2018 have
been issued to prescribe, inter alia. the minimum qualifications for appointment and
other service conditions of University and College teachers.
53. Regulation 1.2 of the UGC Regulations provides that they are applicable to:
“every University established or incorporated by or under
a Central Act, Provincial Act or a State Act, every
Institution including a Constituent or an affiliated College
recognized by the Commission, in consultation with the
University concerned under Clause (i) of Section 2 of the
University Grants Commission Act, 1956 and every
Institution deemed to be a University under Section 3 of
the said Act.”
54. Regulation 7.3 provides for the minimum qualifications of a VC, selection
procedure and the appointment procedure. Regarding the appointment of the VC,
Regulation 7.3 states that:
7.3 Vice Chancellor:
[…]
(iii) The Visitor/Chancellor shall appoint the Vice
Chancellor out of the Panel of names recommended by
the Search-cum-Selection Committee.
55. In Gambhirdan K Gadhvi v State of Gujarat,
17 the Sardar Patel University
Act 1955, expressly vested the power of appointment of the Vice Chancellor in the
State government (instead of the Chancellor). Despite the appointment being in
terms of the statutory provisions of the Sardar Patel University Act 1955, the Court
issued a writ of quo warranto setting aside the appointment of the Vice Chancellor
17 (2022) 5 SCC 179
27
by relying upon the UGC Regulations 2018. This Court, holding that the UGC
Regulations were binding, held that:
49. Therefore, when the appointment of Respondent 4 is
found to be contrary to the UGC Regulations, 2018 and
the UGC Regulations are having the statutory force, we
are of the opinion that this is a fit case to issue a writ of
quo warranto and to quash and set aside the
appointment of Respondent 4 as the Vice-Chancellor of
the SP University.
50. It cannot be disputed that the UGC Regulations are
enacted by the UGC in exercise of powers under
Sections 26(1)(e) and 26(1)(g) of the UGC Act, 1956.
Even as per the UGC Act every rule and regulation
made under the said Act, shall be laid before each
House of Parliament. Therefore, being a subordinate
legislation, UGC Regulations becomes part of the
Act. In case of any conflict between the State
legislation and the Central legislation, Central
legislation shall prevail by applying the
rule/principle of repugnancy as enunciated in Article
254 of the Constitution as the subject “education” is
in the Concurrent List (List III) of the Seventh
Schedule to the Constitution. Therefore, any
appointment as a Vice-Chancellor contrary to the
provisions of the UGC Regulations can be said to be in
violation of the statutory provisions, warranting a writ of
quo warranto.
(emphasis supplied)
56. In view of the decision in Gambhirdan K Gadhvi,
18 even if the provisions of
the Act allowed the appointment of the Vice Chancellor by the State government,
it would be in violation of the UGC Regulations. The Regulations become part of
the statute framed by Parliament and will prevail.
57. For the above reasons, we hold that the judgment of the High Court is correct
in law and on fact and does not warrant interference in appeal. The State
government could not have issued the order re-appointing the VC.
18 Supra
28
58. The appeals are dismissed. No order as to costs.
59. Pending application(s), if any, stand disposed of.
……….…..…....…........……………….…........J.
 [Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud]
…..…....…........……………….…........J.
 [Hima Kohli]
New Delhi;
October 11, 2022

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