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Revealed: Ex-judge wrote ‘patently illegal’ NUJS service rules for Rs 75k, condemned by profs as ‘suicidal’

NUJS paid retired judge Rs 75,000 to draft 'patently illegal' & 'suicidal' service rules
NUJS paid retired judge Rs 75,000 to draft 'patently illegal' & 'suicidal' service rules

The controversial and possibly unconstitutional NUJS Kolkata draft service rules were drafted by a retired judge for Rs 75,000, after two faculty members – associate professor Anirban Mazumdar and assistant professor Ruchira Goswami – failed to make any significant progress for six months on creating new rules, according to campus sources with knowledge of the process.

Although the administration preferred to limit debate on the rules, once circulated, several faculty members condemned the rules as promoting “serfdom rather than employment”, being “suicidal”, “authoritarian, repressive, arbitrary and patently illegal”, and not worthy of consideration other than rejection.

The rules were hoped to provide a firm set of guidelines for university staff’s and faculty’s rights and obligations, and to avoid the repeat of protracted court battles such as the one caused by the suspension with pay of registrar Surajit Mukhopadhyay, which was upheld by the Calcutta high court in July of this year after two years. The legal battle resulted in the production of a detailed report at the university’s expense, which detailed a string of irregularities presided over by the registrar (at least one of which has still not been undone).

Vice chancellor Ishwara Bhat did not respond to a request for comment, but had told the Indian Express last week after our story that the rules were “just a draft” and “will be implemented only after thorough discussions and approval”. It is understood that Bhat had formed a sub-committee to discuss the rules but that no progress had been made by that committee.

Last year, Mazumdar and Goswami had been tasked by the vice chancellor to draft the new service rules, but they did not make any progress for six months. We have reached out to both for comment earlier today but have not heard back.

Around February 2016, Bhat then briefed a retired high court judge to produce the draft service rules, paying around Rs 75,000 for the work.

After around three months, the judge produced the draft rules that Bhat hoped to submit to the executive committee (EC) for discussion.

However, faculty pressure convinced Bhat that the draft rules should be circulated to the entire faculty body, which was done on 27 July 2016 by faculty member Vaneeta Patnaik, copying in 44 other faculty members, as we reported on 15 September.

As we reported yesterday, the draft appeared to have been copy-pasted in part from the service rules of nine other institutes, with the majority of rules coming from Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute.

One faculty member had responded to the group email on 28 July with (emphasis not ours):

Dear Colleagues,

Thanks Vaneeta for circulating the draft text which is titled “WBNUJS Services Rules 2016”. With all due respect to the author of this text, in my humble opinion it cannot be called as “Service Rules” for faculties of a University when its very foundation is anti-democratic and undermines the moral premise of an independent academic profession. In my first reading I thought that may be some of the provisions are repressive and can be severed from the text and remaining of it can be reexamined. But after few more readings, I consider the entire rule aims to curtail right-based service environment, intellectual freedom, established academic values of a university employment. Thus the text requires to be summarily rejected as a whole.

There exist several grammatical, construction and interpretation errors which are merely not typographical error. The provisions governing disciplinary action, service conditions, increment and promotion is in direct conflict with UGC norms and fundamental rights of academic life. Further there are several provisions that extend beyond employee’s professional conduct and encroach upon their personal and private life without any reasonable legal basis. Also it attempts to unreasonably infringe upon an employee’s freedom to participate in political affairs of the State, public and private debate, lawful assemblies and sharing intellectual inputs, which are integral and bedrock of a democratic academic workspace and vibrant University culture. It proposes an employment environment that will promote serfdom rather than employment.

In my humble opinion the author of this text has limited knowledge about the nature of an independent academic profession, moral implications and responsibilities of an academic. In his proposed text the conditions of service of a university faculty and a ‘prison guard in the colonial period’ has no difference. He completely undermines the fact that an academic is generally a person with high social and moral standing and has put clauses which in my view affect the very dignity of our service. His ignorance about the integrity of academic life is thoroughly reflected in the language, choice of vocabulary and the manner in which the provisions are drafted in the draft “NUJS Service Rule, 2016”.

I also agree with the VC and colleagues that service rules are necessary and its timely adoption is indispensable. But I am not in favour of the idea that this inevitable necessity should blindfold us from the draconian features of this proposed rule and it intentional effort to curb the very satisfaction of our employment in letter and spirit. Adopting this rule will be suicidal. In the past issues relating to our service conditions have been decided by the VC and EC as per the NUJS Act and their ad-hoc decisions. I have complete faith on their individual or collective best judgment than supporting adoption of these draconian rules for sake of stability.

In my view the proposed rule  doesn’t deserve consideration because it is authoritarian, repressive, arbitrary and patently illegal.The draft “NUJS Service Rule, 2016” is premised on a model that gives such unfettered and arbitrary power to the employer without available ‘check & balance’ that suggesting modification or amendment is not possible. It should be scrapped totally and a complete new text needs to be prepared keeping in mind the requirements of our employment rather than mechanically following from any other available rules or systems. As because I consider this text in totality requires to be rejected, I am not putting clause by clause objections with this e-mail. If the committee requires the same later I will be happy to provide the same.

Regards

[…]

Another faculty member responded with:

Thank you for asking us for our opinions on the draft circulated. Yes the Rules need a relook. Not only are they regressive, violative of basic legal freedoms as well as existing UGC norms, they also appear to have been extensively plagiarised from sources which are inapplicable to faculty.

I have full faith that a modern, progressive, institution of excellence like NUJS would not consider implementation of such ludicrousness.

Regarding suggestions, the existing draft deserves none - apart from being rejected. We can look at premier law schools like NLS or Nalsar, or institutions of excellence like the IITs and the IIMs as points of reference to frame our Service Rules. And most importantly, we could frame our own rules without taking recourse to blind plagiarism. Looking forward to an intellectual discussion on a more progressive draft.

Read the full draft rules here.

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