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NUJS legal saga ends: HC clears termination of registrar Mukhopadhyay for ‘financial mismanagement’ [READ JUDGMENTS]

NUJS students win a long unlikely battle
NUJS students win a long unlikely battle

The Calcutta high court on 26 July dismissed the second appeal of NUJS Kolkata registrar Surajit Mukhopadhyay against his suspension from the post by the vice-chancellor (VC), clearing the way for his dismissal by the university.

The VC, Ishwara Bhatt, had suspended Mukhopadhyay in 2014 after an executive committee (EC) decision authorised Bhatt to take appropriate action following a judicial inquiry that had found strong evidence of financial irregularities committed by Mukhopadhyay.

A charge-sheet was also issued against him by Bhatt on 27 August 2014, alleging mismanagement of funds and breaking the college’s financial rules.

The first report, which we first published in full in July 2014, found facts “indicative of financial mismanagement of funds by the university” following allegations and representations by students covering a period between 2011 and 2014.

The committee of comprising of former Rajasthan high court chief justice NN Mathur and former senior government auditors Saroj Das and Asok Deb, had submitted by April 2014 that there had been an “apparently fabricated” tendering process extending “undue favor” to an interior decorator as a contractor, with no transparency in purchases of certain items.

Mukhopadaya appealed in September 2014 against his suspension before the Calcutta high court.

A second judicial inquiry was ordered, presided over by retired Justice PN Sinha which found “most of the charges levelled against the petitioner proved”, according to the high court order of Justice Dipankar Datta on 11 July 2016.

On 18 June 2016, relying on this second report, the executive council (EC) unanimously decided that Mukhopadaya deserved to be dismissed from service “by reason of his conduct” (but that he should only be dismissed after seeking leave from the high court, which had put a stay on disciplinary or other proceedings since 2014).

High court Justice Datta on 11 July 2016 disposed of Mukhopadaya’s 2014 writ petition, but extended Mukhopadaya’s interim protection from dismissal for another week (until 18 July) and leaving it to him to “approach the appropriate forum” to challenge the disciplinary proceedings, the EC resolution (and his probable dismissal).

Mukhopadaya then filed another writ petition, challenging the validity of the EC’s original 2014 decision to empower Bhatt to take appropriate action against him.

Senior counsel Kishore Dutta had argued for Mukhopadhyay that the Bhatt did not have the authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings but that only the college’s statutory executive committee (EC) could do so.

NUJS was represented by senior advocate Pratik Dhar.

Justice Debangsu Basak roundly dismissed all of Mukhopadhyay claims and held (emphasis added):

In view of the discussion above, the first issue is answered byholding that, the EC can delegate its powers to initiate thedisciplinary proceedings to the VC under the Act of 1999. In thepresent case, the delegation was validly done. The second issue isalso answered against the petitioner and in the affirmative on theterms discussed.

The first two issues being answered against the petitioner, it isheld that the initiation of the disciplinary proceedings by the VC against the petitioner was validly done.

The petitioner has alleged bias against the VC The petitionerhas also challenged the issuance of the charge-sheet claiming that,the VC lacked the power to issue it and in any event, the charge-sheet is not in the name of the disciplinary authority.

In the facts of the present case, no Rule or Regulation has been established tohave been violated in the course of the disciplinary proceedingsagainst the petitioner. The alleged involvement of the VC in thefinancial transactions does not ipso facto result in the VC beingbiased against the petitioner. It is open to the University authoritiesto proceed against every person of the University including the VC ,whom the authorities have reasons to believe that, such a person isinvolved in the misdeeds. The University has not done so.

Basak also held that the enquiry officer’s report had provided evidence and reasons and should not be opened up by the court, which was not an appellate authority in this case.

The report had been adequately considered by the executive committee, held the judge, and the EC’s decision was “sufficiently elaborate and contains reasons”.

An NUJS Facebook page, called The NUJS Inside Scoop (hat-tip Lawctopus), posted the following message:

We are extremely proud to announce that due to the arduous efforts initiated by our past representatives (Akshat Gupta, President (2013-15), and Adithya Iyer, President (2015-16) & Vice President (2013-15)) the long-standing legal battle involving embezzlement of University funds has finally come to its end, culminating in our highly deserved victory. Against all odds and through the capricious twists of events that took place during the last thirty months, the truth has finally prevailed.

Dr. Surajit Chandra Mukhopadhyay’s dismissal was finally upheld by the Hon’ble Calcutta high court on 26 July, 2016.

In the end, we would like to wholeheartedly thank the then members of the Student Juridical Association who stood firmly alongside our representatives throughout this ordeal.

That other report

Independently of the reports and findings against Mukhopadhyay, a 2013 report by the Bar Council of India (BCI) on NUJS that was leaked to us and published in July 2014, had raised several critical shortcomings at the college.

The report mentioned “grossly inadequate” teacher numbers - a shortage of at least 10 faculty - and found “awfully bad” maintenance of administrative records, power factions in the faculty leading to a lack of coordination between the administration and the faculty body, irregularities in employment and inadequate examination rules.

It advised that it was “high time” the chancellor constituted a University Review Commission (URC) which was pending since May 2010.

Several students and faculty members had alleged that the administration had suppressed the report.

Read that full report here.

Judgment upholding NUJS EC decision to suspend registrar (PDF)

Disposal of 2014 petition after second adverse report against registrar (PDF)

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