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Claims & counter-claims analysed: NLU Delhi threatens perjury against petitioners challenging registrar GS Bajpai appointment

GS Bajpai claims ‘crooked designs’ behind petition challenging his appointment
GS Bajpai claims ‘crooked designs’ behind petition challenging his appointment

NLU Delhi, its registrar Prof GS Bajpai and vice chancellor (VC) Prof Ranbir Singh are facing a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Delhi high court dramatically alleging “rampant abuse of public office and nepotism in admission and appointment”, as first reported by Bar & Bench on Friday.

NLU Delhi, meanwhile, has strongly rebutted the allegations as completely baseless in a statement, as first reported by Livelaw, which has also published a copy of the petition made by self-styled anti-corruption activists Ashok Kumar Jain and Nitish Bharadwaj (PDF shared below). The petition has also been covered widely in the mainstream press since.

Bajpai has today sent us a statement on request, which notes: “The allegations made in the petition are completely vexatious and baseless and timed at a moment when VC selection process is underway. The motive seems to tarnish the image of the candidates. The NLUD will present a full range of documentary evidences to demolish this fake petition.”

The petitioners’ lawyer is Delhi-based advocate Misbahul Haque, whose comments we’ve included at the bottom of this article.

Furthermore, NLU Delhi has said in its statement to LiveLaw that the filing of perjury and defamation suits against the petitioners were already underway (Bajpai said in his statement that the petitioners were “liable to be prosecuted for perjury”, and that lawyers would “file a comprehensive reply to dismiss this petition”.

That said, the petition makes several main points, which we’ve examined in turn against the university’s and Bajpai’s response.

No ad for Bajpai’s appointment

NLU Delhi Act section 21: How to appoint a registrar
NLU Delhi Act section 21: How to appoint a registrar

When Bajpai was appointed to his position, allegedly there was neither an advertisement issued nor a search committee constituted for the position.

Prima facie, such a requirement does exist under section 21(1) of the NLU Delhi Act 2007 (see full copy here), which stipulates a selection committee constituted by the Executive Council to pick a new registrar.

However, according to the NLU Delhi statement made to LiveLaw:

The appointment of Prof G.S. Bajpai, the present Registrar is transparent and strictly in furtherance to the rules and bylaws of the University. Professor Bajpai was appointed the registrar in the year 2014 in furtherance to Rule 6(3) of NLUD Regulation.

Bajpai also added that his assigment was made under clause 6(3) of the Regulations.

Rule 6(3) indeed notes (see below) that the VC can appoint a teacher to assume the duties of the registrar if the registrar position is vacant.

But: Rule 6(3) that NLUD is relying on in Bajpai’s appointment
But: Rule 6(3) that NLUD is relying on in Bajpai’s appointment

From what we understand, no appointment for the registrar position was ever made at NLU Delhi in accordance with section 21 of the Act (by way of search committee).

By the letter of the Act’s section 21 and clause 6(3) of the rules, that could be fine. However, both those are clearly either in conflict or at least operating in parallel to each other. If the latter interpretation is the case, then it does leave an obvious lacuna of wondering when a search committee for registrar ever has to be constituted, if the VC can basically decide to make this appointment any time themselves.

No law degree of registrar?

The PIL also claims that Bajpai does not have a law degree and is therefore “ineligible to hold any post of law teacher in India”, claiming:

The Statutory prescription for the post of Registrar mandates that the appointee must be a Professor of Law. The Respondent No. 2, possessing bachelor’s in science, master’s in arts, and a Ph.D, is neither a Professor in Law nor possesses any law degree (LLM/PhD in Law) to hold the post of registrar at the NLUD.

The petition demands Bajpai’s removal as registrar for this reason, because it purportedly violates NLU Delhi’s establishing act.

Some of those assertions seem to be on slightly soft ground.

Bajpai wrote in his response to us that he is “professor of criminology and criminal justice and he has all qualifications for this position since 2007”, as per UGC Regulations. He had also served as professor of law at NLIU Bhopal on the same qualifications from 2007 to 2011.

Going purely by section 21(1) of the Act, whether Bajpai does or doesn’t have an undergraduate law degree doesn’t really seem to matter, as the registrar only needs to be “an academic person in law” according to the language (see extract of the relevant section above).

Notwithstanding the vagueness of the Act’s language, Bajpai certainly seems to fit the “person in law” bill, according to his biography on NLU Delhi’s website (though it does omit to mention his exact undergraduate or masters’ degrees, or whether they are BScs, MAs or otherwise); the website does state that he had previously “also had positions at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, (1989) Bureau of Police Research & Development, (1989- 1995) Punjab Police Academy, Punjab and Department of Criminology & Forensic Science, University of Saugar, M.P. He did his post-doctorate study (2004) as Commonwealth Fellow at the Department of Criminology, Leicester University, U.K.”.

Furthermore, the UGC Regulations also allow a lot of leeway in professorial appointments, with carve-outs allowing the appointment of an “outstanding professional, with established reputation in the relevant field, who has made significant contributions to the knowledge in the concerned/allied/relevant discipline”.

From the information available, this does not look like a slam dunk argument for the petitioners.

Arbitrary misuse of powers?

The petition claims that Bajpai, since his appointment, had “arbitrarily used his power and violated the rule of law to cause bestowal of benefits to his relatives and acquaintances showing nepotism and favoritism as the only modus operandi”.

Strong words.

The petitioners claim that Bajpai had unfairly given his daughter an advantage at getting into the NLU Delhi LLM and PhD courses, as well as appointing her as “guest faculty”, alleging that Bajpai had been responsible for “manipulations of process” of admissions for LLM and PhD, and was heading the “research committee” that prepared the “question paper and evaluation of answer sheet” for the PhD entrance exam.

These points are also strongly contested by NLU Delhi, which noted in its statement: “That vis-à-vis the allegations pertaining to the daughter of Prof Bajpai being admitted to LL.M and PhD it is declared that he had voluntarily recused from the entire selection process and the documentary evidences shall be put before the Hon’ble Court. It is also stated that his daughter could not clear the entrance in first attempt and had to reappear. She has never been appointed as Gest [sic] faculty as claimed in the petition.”

Bajpai echoed that comment, saying: “The mention of Prof Bajpai’s daughter serving as guest faculty is absolutely incorrect. Regarding her LL M and Ph D admissions, we have solid documents proving all transparency and recusals.”

Furthermore, the petition claims that a communications manager was appointed at NLU Delhi, who was Bajpai’s niece.

Bajpai responded with his statement noting: “And there cannot be any untruth on the earth like referring [...] as his niece. Admission related allegations do not hold as there were clear recusals on the part of the Registrar at all levels avoiding so called conflict of interest.”

NLU Delhi’s response to LiveLaw too does not leave much wriggle room if the petitioner can’t provide further proof in court: “That vis-à-vis the allegations pertaining to one individual being appointed to a temporary position inasmuch she is the ‘niece’ of Prof Bajpai it is stated that the same is completely false and concocted allegation. We have obtained the entire family pedigree of the said candidate and our team is working to file perjury against the filing of a false affidavit before the Hon’ble Court. Prof Bajpai has absolutely no past or present relation to the individual concerned.”

Unless the petitioners have some secret documents or evidence they had not shared in the petition, Bajpai’s and NLU Delhi’s rebuttals seem particularly unequivocal right now and should be fairly easy question of fact to prove or disprove, either way.

Bajpai had been sacked from NLIU

The petition also mentions that Bajpai had been “removed from the services” (sic) at NLIU Bhopal, where he was previously professor, for “serious misconducts... after holding a Judicial Inquiry dully [sic] approved by higher authorities” of NLIU.

Indeed, part of that is on public record: a Times of India article from 2011 reported that “two senior professors, Prof. G S Bajpai and Associate professor Dr Moin Mustazar were ‘removed’ by the executive council for allegedly awarding marks to three PhD students without evaluating their answer sheets. The professors, however, alleged the action against them was taken in an arbitrary manner, without following the established principles of natural justice”.

Bajpai’s writ petition against the decision before the Madhya Pradesh high court was dismissed in 2016 for having become “infructuous” after Bajpai had filed a separate petition appealing the final order, which the University’s lawyer told the court had found him “guilty” (see right, click here to enlarge).

We have not been able to confirm such separate petition by Bajpai or its current status.

NLU Delhi and Bajpai did not specifically respond to this allegation, and the final outcome of his removal from NLIU is not currently available in the public domain.

However, to some extent whether or not Bajpai was fired from NLIU is not directly relevant to the current petition.

NLU Delhi threatens defamation against plaintiffs

NLU Delhi maintained that it had “upheld highest standards of transparency and accountability at all fronts” (which one might, of course, expect it to say).

It has also, more aggressively, claimed that “the PIL is motivated by an individual against whom an inquiry has been contemplated and suspension orders have been issued on account of misconduct to malign the University and its administration”, adding: “The appropriate legal actions including defamation suit are already underway in this case.”

The petitioners, Ashok Kumar Jain and Nitish Bharadwaj, in turn, said in their petition that they are respectively a “retired public servant (an engineer in power sector)” and “a young working professional (senior analyst in public policy and regulatory affair) in a reputed private firm”.

Both have claimed to be RTI activists who have exposed corruption in several other writ petitions, and that they “have no motive other than bringing to fore the malpractices”.

The case could take a little while to untangle and with the impending VC selection at NLU Delhi, it’s bound to be messy, which could explain NLU Delhi’s strong response despite the obvious risk of public statements in a sub judice case, as pointed out by the university:

That the matter is sub-judis before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi and the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi was pleased to issue notices to file a reply in the aforesaid matter. Our legal team is filing a comprehensive reply with supporting documents and this press note by no means is to be construed as a rebuttal to the allegations inasmuch this is merely for public awareness. The allegations in the alleged PIL are completely baseless and motivated by vested interests.

Bajpai added in his statement: “Let all understand that who is behind this petition and what are the objectives behind this crooked design. This is a plot engineered by some insiders who have been ordered to be suspended for misconducts. One of them is currently facing a criminal defamation.”

The petitioners’ lawyer Haque said that he had not yet received NLU Delhi’s official written response, only after which they could file their rejoinder.

However, Haque noted that nearly “every PIL faces the same allegation” that petitioners were motivated, and it was not possible for him to comment further until he saw the respondents’ formal response.

He also added that both petitioners had no nexus to NLU Delhi and were members of the “public at large”, which is why this was a “public interest litigation rather than a writ petition”.

It appears like all sides will have their day in court on this soon enough.

PIL vs NLU Delhi (via LiveLaw) (PDF)

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