Supreme Court Establishes Committee Led by Ex-CJI UU Lalit to Resolve West Bengal University VC Appointment Dispute

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Amid a dispute between the West Bengal government and Governor CV Anand Bose, who serves as the Chancellor of the universities, regarding the appointment process for Vice-Chancellors (VCs), the Supreme Court (SC) of India, today, has ordered the setting up of a joint Search Selection Committee. The top court added that the Committee will be headed by former Chief Justice of India (CJI) UU Lalit to resolve the deadlock over the appointment of (VCs) in West Bengal universities. The newly formed committee will be established within 2 weeks and will consist of 5 members, with former CJI UU Lalit serving as the chairperson. This committee will prepare a panel of 3 names for each university's VC position, listed alphabetically and not by merit. The recommendations of the committee, endorsed by the chairperson, will be sent to the State's Chief Minister (CM).

The bench added that the Chief Minister can review the panel and, if necessary, raise concerns about any of the candidates. These concerns, along with supporting evidence, must be presented to the Chancellor within two weeks. The CM also has the authority to rank the shortlisted candidates in order of preference, and the Chancellor will appoint the VCs following this order. If the Chancellor has any reservations or objections, he must provide detailed reasons and supporting material.

The process outlined by the SC includes specific timelines, with the entire process expected to be completed within 3 months. If there is a disagreement between the parties over the shortlisted names, the Court will have the final say, ensuring a fair opportunity for objections to be heard. Additionally, former CJI UU Lalit will be compensated Rs 3 lakhs per effective committee meeting, and other committee expenses will be covered by the state. This directive follows the West Bengal government's Special Leave Petition challenging a June 2023 Calcutta High Court judgment, which upheld interim VC appointments made by the Governor.

In April, the Court learned that the Governor had agreed to fill six VC vacancies from a list recommended by the West Bengal Government, with the remaining vacancies to be addressed later. Following warnings from the Court about the need for amicable appointments, the Governor found seven of the fifteen state-recommended candidates unsuitable, leaving eight appointments pending. The Court then directed the state to propose additional names to fill these positions and emphasized the formation of the Search Committee before the next hearing on July 12, 2024.