SC quashes reappointment of Gopinath Ravindran as Vice Chancellor of Kannur University

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On November 30, 2023, While hearing the Dr. Premachandran Keezhoth vs. The Chancellor Kannur University case, the Supreme Court of India quashed the reappointment of Gopinath Ravindran as Vice Chancellor of Kerala’s Kannur University. The matter was heard by a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Manoj Misra, and Justice JB Pardiwala. The SC set aside the notification dated 23 November 2021, reappointing Dr. Ravindran as VC of Kannur University, on the ground of ‘unwarranted intervention of the State Government’. It said, “Although the notification for appointment was issued by the Chancellor, yet the decision stood vitiated by the influence of extraneous consideration, or to put it in other words, by the unwarranted intervention of the State Government.” 

The SC also clarified that the suitability of the candidates was not a matter of concern but the issue was related to the decision-making process. It added, “It is the Chancellor who has been conferred with the competence under the Act 1996 to appoint or reappoint a Vice-Chancellor. No other person even the Pro-Chancellor or any superior authority can interfere with the functioning of the statutory authority and if any decision is taken by a statutory authority at the behest or on a suggestion of a person who has no statutory role to play, the same would be patently illegal. Thus, it is the decision-making process, which vitiated the entire process of reappointment…as the Vice-Chancellor. The case on hand is not one of mere irregularity.” It added, “We emphasize on the decision-making process because in such a case the exercise of power is amenable to judicial review.”

During the court proceedings, the bench opined that “in the matter of re-appointment, the age bar prescribed under Section 10(9) for appointment of the Vice Chancellor would not come into play, because the Vice Chancellor who has been appointed before attaining the age of 60 years, is entitled to continue for a term of four years and shall be eligible for re-appointment.” The questions addressed during the proceedings were “Whether reappointment is permissible in respect of a Tenure Post?” “Whether the outer-age limit stipulated under sub-section (9) of Section 10 of the Act 1996 is applicable in case of reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor?” “Whether the reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor has to follow the same process as a fresh appointment under Section 10 of the Act 1996?” and “Did the Chancellor abdicate or surrender his statutory power of reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor?” 

The SC answered the first question stating, “At the end of the tenure the appointment automatically comes to an end and there can only be a fresh appointment and not a reappointment.” It said that the age limit won’t apply in the case of a re-appointment. The bench also said that the “reappointment of the Vice-Chancellor need not follow the same process as a fresh appointment by setting up a selection committee.” Further, the bench quashed the reappointment of Vice-Chancellor of the Kannur University.