Delhi High Court Finds Violation of Reservation Laws in JNU Faculty Appointment

Massive irregularities have taken place despite internal checks and balances.

Kolkata: In a further embarrassment for the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration, the Delhi high court has found the university violating stipulated reservation laws while recruiting an associate professor and a professor in the School of Social Sciences (SSS) and the School of International Studies (SIS).

Four faulty members from the university, including two assistant professors from the concerned departments (Centre for Informal Sector & Labour Studies at SSS and the Centre for Inner Asian Studies at SIS) had moved the Delhi high court seeking the quashing of two advertisements published in August 2019, and the subsequent recruitment process for appointing teachers at the above-mentioned centres. The petitioners argued that while advertising for the vacancies, the university had flouted the norms of post-based reservation.

Pronouncing its verdict in the matter on November 17, a single bench of Justice Jyoti Singh of the Delhi high court observed that the onus of proving that the reservation roster was duly maintained was on the university, which it had failed to do. “Mere statements and denials that there has been no de-reservation or exchange of reservation points would not be enough for the University to rebut the data/tables placed on record by the Petitioners,” it said. The order copy was accessed by the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) on Thursday.

Speaking to The Wire, JNUTA secretary Moushumi Basu expressed her gratitude to the faculty members who moved the court. “It’s a question of institutional integrity. That integrity was being compromised in a very shady manner. Without the least care for constitutional provisions, without any accountability, the authorities suddenly shifted around 30 posts from one category to the other. Taking legal action was the only way to stop it.”

When asked about the larger narrative behind the tampering of the university roster, she said, “As a member of the executive council I have noticed that whenever interviews are held for reserved category posts, the authorities declare ‘None Found Suitable’ on most of the occasions. All these signal a clear anti-reservation attitude and an attempt at a Brahminical takeover of the academic space.”

‘Violation of post-based reservation’

According to the petitioners, the post of associate professor was reserved for an SC candidate which was illegally converted to an ST post. Similarly, the post of professor was reserved for ST candidate and was converted to an unreserved post. Thereby, the university violated the ‘policy of post-based reservation, which mandates that specific teaching posts be designated/reserved for persons belonging to specific reserved categories such as SC, ST and OBC.’

Representing the petitioners, advocate Akhil Sibal argued that the university suppressed ‘material facts’ and made ‘misrepresentations before the court’. The counter-affidavit that stated that no post of SC and ST has been converted/de-reserved into unreserved was ‘demonstrably false’, he maintained.

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The court made it clear that the reservation rosters have to be post-based and there cannot be exchange of reservation points or de-reservation, unless in exceptional circumstances. Coming down heavily on the JNU administration, it said that ‘ample opportunities were given to the University to file affidavits’, but in spite of that, the university ‘was unable to demonstrate’ that stipulated norms as per UGC guidelines were followed.

Quashing the advertisement for the two said posts, Justice Singh directed the university to ‘revisit the issue and work out the roster points afresh’ within three months. Subsequently, the university can start the recruitment process afresh.

Series of questionable appointments

This comes in the backdrop of a series of similar allegations against the university administration in the recent years. A statement issued by the JNUTA on Thursday welcomed the high court ruling, saying, “This order is yet another indictment of the gross illegalities and irregularities indulged in by the JNU administration headed by Professor M. Jagadesh Kumar. It also reveals the strong anti-reservation attitude that has expressed itself in not just in decisions on faculty appointments but also in student admissions.”

Earlier, on November 23, eight professors of the university’s School of Physical Sciences wrote a letter to the president of India alleging irregularities in faculty recruitment at the department. In July 2020, the sister-in-law of a UGC official was allegedly appointed as associate professor at the Centre of Media Studies, though her name was not even shortlisted by the selection committee. In August 2020, the Hindustan Times reported how several appointments were made by the present VC by tweaking rules in order to favour loyalists.

On October 1, 2020, then JNUTA secretary Surajit Mazumdar had written to R. Subrahmanyam, secretary, department of social justice and empowerment of the Government of India, about the ‘grave violation of the national policy on reservation of SC/ST categories in JNU’. Even before that, on March 6, the same practice was brought to the notice of the education ministry. A candidate with just an MA degree, who is married to the editor of a prominent right-wing journal, was appointed in the special centre for national security studies during the lockdown via online interview. In another incident, a person with just three years of teaching experience was given the job of an associate professor. There are several other allegations like these.

“Blatant violation of recruitment norms has reached such an extent that people who are not shortlisted are called for interview, candidates with lesser qualifications get selected for higher position, people who have no subject expertise are made part of the selection committee, so on and so forth,” said a professor on condition of anonymity.

The JNUTA statement said that all its pleas for government intervention had gone unheeded. The high court order “implicates not just the JNU VC but the Ministry of Education as well. If the VC is guilty of the extremely serious offence of gross violation of reservation law and trying to cover it up with specious arguments in front of the Court, the Ministry of Education must also be held so for its wilful inaction,” the statement said, without mincing words.

How deep is the rot? 

The Wire spoke to a number of senior JNU professors trying to find out how irregularities in appointment were carried out in spite of there being a selection committee with representation from various quarters.

The selection committee consists of seven people – the vice chancellor who is the chairperson, the dean of the concerned school, the chairperson of the concerned centre, three subject experts and the visitor’s nominee. (There is also an observer nominated by the VC in case of a reserved post.) Out of the seven people, the subject experts are chosen by the vice-chancellor from a panel of 25 to 30 academics chosen by the Centre and approved by the Academic Council.

The chairperson and the dean are rotational positions based on seniority. Each faculty member of a centre becomes its chairperson for two years on rotation and generally, the senior most professor of a school is selected as the dean. It is not possible to tamper with the names of these two persons on the selection committee. Whoever is the chairperson or the dean has to be on the committee.

In 2017, five to seven incidents were reported in which the vice-chancellor allegedly tried to push a candidate unfairly and the selection was contested by other members of the selection committee. A number of these appointments were challenged in the Delhi high court. So, in order to indulge in irregularities, it becomes imperative to have the selection committee at one’s command. This is where the dean and the chairpersons position became crucial.

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Unfortunately, it is not written in the JNU statutes that they have to be selected on the basis of seniority, but it is a convention followed for decades. A number of senior professors alleged that this is the reason why the present vice-chancellor overruled seniority and started handpicking such faculty members as deans and chairpersons who would be his yes-men. As a result, the SSS has a dean at present who is 60th on the list of seniority. There were 59 professors at SSS who were senior to him at the time of the appointment. Similarly, at SIS, 20 to 25 senior professors were superseded. Violations were also reported in the school of physical sciences, the school of life sciences, the school of microbiology.

The VC went even farther while appointing chairpersons. To have people of his choice as centre heads, he started appointing chairpersons from outside the centre. Since it is written in the statutes that a chairperson can not be appointed from outside the centre, these appointments were challenged in the high court and eventually revoked. So, now the chairpersons are appointed from within the centre, but often the seniority principle is not followed. The centre for linguistics is a case in example. Seniority was violated at the centre for historical studies, the centre for women’s studies and the centre for the study of regional development as well. Many of these decisions have been challenged in the high court.

Not only that, The Wire also found the present VC has at times added or deleted names from the panel of subject experts without consulting the concerned centre. This too was challenged in court which ruled that the only body which can approve any addition or deletion of the panel of subject experts is the academic council. The academic council comprises all deans and chairpersons. A senior professor said, “Since he started appointing his favourites as deans and chairpersons, the academic council is full of his henchmen. So, we only have won half the battle. The court is yet to give its verdict on whether the VC can make such changes in the first place.”

The vice-chancellor did not respond to emails from The Wire.

Indradeep Bhattacharyya is an independent journalist based in Kolkata.