The Appellant filed the present Intra Court appeal under Clause 10 of the Letters Patent Act impugning the judgment passed by the Ld. Single Judge dismissing the writ petition filed by him. In the writ petition, he sought quashing of the Order passed by Respondent no. 1 of his dismissal from the post of Vice-Chancellor, Manipur University, quashing of the advertisement published for fresh appointment of Vice-Chancellor of the Manipur University and direction for his restoration to the post of Vice-Chancellor of Manipur University.
The Appellant was appointed as Vice-Chancellor of Manipur University in 2016 for 5 years. The Appellant claimed that he received an extortion letter demanding Rs. 5 crores in January 2018, and consequently he filed an FIR with the Manipur Police. Respondent no. 2 constituted a two-member Fact Finding committee by way of a Notification to enquire into the allegations against the Appellant of gross financial and administrative irregularities in the management of the affairs of the university. This committee was set up as a result of an intensive agitation against the Appellant led by groups like Manipur University Staff Association (MUSA), Manipur University Students’ Union (MUSU) & Manipur University Teachers’ Association (MUTA). The agitating groups and the Joint Secretary, MHRD, Government of India signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on seven points, including that the Appellant would remain on leave for the period of the inquiry and the Registrar of the University shall be the Nodal Officer of the Inquiry Committee. Subsequently, Respondent no. 2, on 17th August 2018, constituted an Inquiry Committee comprising of former Acting Chief Justice of the High Court of Meghalaya, as Chairperson and Professor M.K. Choudhary, former Vice-Chancellor, Tezpur University, as Member.
The Appellant assailed the MOA and the Notification before the Manipur High Court vide W.P.(C) No.825/2018 and also prayed for an ad-interim stay, which was declined. Subsequently, he filed two more writ petitions by way of PILs, which were tagged with W.P.(C) No.825/2018. Appellant preferred S.L.P. (C) No.24707/2018 against non-grant of stay by the Manipur High Court, but no relief was granted. The Manipur High Court, vide a common judgment, dismissed the petition filed by the Appellant and disposed of the PILs.
The Inquiry Committee commenced the inquiry proceedings, treating the ‘Terms of Reference’ as the charge-sheet against the Appellant, which as per the Appellant, was never served upon him at any stage. The Appellant was placed under suspension by Respondent no. 2 until completion of the inquiry proceedings. The Appellant did not participate in the inquiry proceedings.
The Inquiry Committee submitted a report to Respondent no. 1 holding the Appellant guilty of most of the 18 charges as per the ‘Terms of Reference’. Respondent no.2 issued a show-cause notice to the Appellant requiring him to show cause ‘as to why he should not be removed from the post of Vice-Chancellor of Manipur University for his misconduct, dereliction of duty, abuse of power and lack of commitment’. A copy of the Inquiry Report was also supplied to the Appellant, who submitted his reply to the show-cause notice, inter alia, objecting to the constitution of the Inquiry Committee and procedures of inquiry, violation of principles of natural justice, preparation and issuance of charge sheet by incompetent authority and non-supply of the same to the Appellant, non-supply of the statement of witnesses and no evidence or material to substantiate the charges. The Appellant further made allegations concerning the impartiality of the Chairperson of the Inquiry Committee on the ground that he was a close relative of the complainants. The Respondents passed an Order dismissing the Appellant from the post of Vice-Chancellor. Subsequently, an advertisement was issued inviting applications for fresh appointment to the said post. The Appellant, aggrieved by the Order and the advertisement, appealed before this Court by way of Writ Petition from which the present appeal arose, which was dismissed by the Ld. Single Judge vide the impugned judgment. The main plank of the Appellant’s submissions before the Ld. Single Judge was in violation of principles of natural justice in the conduct of the inquiry proceedings, that he was not given an opportunity to present his case. These submissions did not find favour with the Ld. Single Judge and the writ petition was dismissed.
Arguments before the Court
The petitioner argued that while the inquiry proceedings were being conducted, there was a violation of principles of natural justice and that he was not given an opportunity to present his case. He further contended that even if he chose not to appear before the Inquiry Committee, the Inquiry Committee had to consider the various materials on record and evidence against the Respondents before coming to its conclusion. He further contended that Prof. Dorendrajit Singh illegally continued to act as the Registrar in charge as well as the Nodal Officer of the Inquiry Committee and has also drawn up the ‘Terms of Reference’ for the inquiry. Furthermore, he submitted that being the Vice-Chancellor, his appointment was for a period of five years or till he attains the age of 70 and that he enjoyed the protection of Article 311 of the Constitution of India and curtailment of his term can only be in accordance with the law.
Mr Rajesh Gogna, the learned counsel for the Respondents submitted that the Vice-Chancellor of Manipur University, appointed for a specific term, cannot be said to be a government servant holding a civil position and was, therefore, not entitled for protection under Article 311 of the Constitution of India. For this, he relied upon the judgment in the case of Union Public Service Commission v. Girish Jayanti Lal Vaghela & Ors.
The Court observed that since the Appellant did not appear in the inquiry proceedings despite being given several opportunities for the same, his submission that there was a violation of principles of natural justice was completely devoid of merits. The Court further said that since the Appellant chose not to appear, he cannot make any grievance that he was not supplied the ‘Terms of Reference’, documents, list of witnesses and affidavits filed by the witnesses. The Court also found the Appellant’s contention regarding Prof. Dorendrajit Singh, without any merits and said that even if it was assumed that Professor Dorendrajit Singh illegally continued to act as the Nodal Officer, no prejudice could have been caused to the Appellant, as he was not the one conducting the inquiry. The Court reiterated the observation of the Learned Single Judge that if the Appellant was aggrieved by the appointment and continuance of Professor Dorendrajit Singh as Nodal Officer for the inquiry, he could have challenged the same, but he chose not to do so.
The Court considered the submissions of both the parties to the question as to which posts enjoy protection under Article 311 of the Constitution. The Court referred to several cases of the Hon’ble Supreme Court regarding the same and found that Manipur University was a legal entity separate from the Union. The Court said that merely because Manipur University was financed by or there was an element of control with the Central Government, it cannot be said that the employees of Manipur University hold a ‘civil post’ under the Union and were entitled to protection under Article 311 of the Constitution. The Court further said that even though the Central Government may have a role in the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of the Manipur University, he will not be entitled to protection under Article 311 as he does not hold a ‘civil post’ under the Union.
After making the aforesaid observations, the Court did not find any infirmity with the judgment of the Ld. Single Judge. The Court held that since the Appellant was not holding a ‘civil post’, he could not be granted the protection under Article 311 of the Constitution. The Court found no merit in the present petition and dismissed it.
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