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Why CNLU campus is in lockdown protests over NUJS VC move • The cases for and against Bhat (and the case where there is none)

Protests continue at CNLU against Bhat appointment
Protests continue at CNLU against Bhat appointment

NUJS Kolkata vice chancellor Prof Ishwara Bhat's appointment to the post of CNLU Patna's VC has sparked a campus lock down protest at CNLU, uniting students within 24 hours of us having first published the news of Bhat's selection to lead the Bihar law college.

Students have demanded a stay on Bhat's appointment order until publication of the NUJS review commission report - that Bhat has now allegedly been buried for months - without an extension of outgoing vice chancellor Dr A Lakshminath's term as vice chancellor at CNLU.

According to a letter of demands, written by CNLU students, they object to:

  • Bhat's appointment in part due to the no-confidence petitions against him by NUJS' Student Juridical Association (SJA),
  • Lakshminath potentially continuing in other positions at CNLU after his retirement, as well as
  • a lack of transparency in the VC-appointment process.

One student involved in the protests, which do not have a formal leadership since CNLU does not have an elected student body, told us: “We the student community of CNLU believes that no student body protests against an administration of their university, without basing their arguments on valid or reasonable grounds, as administration always have the power to retaliate.”

“Since his administration has been repeatedly called into question in the past, by both students and faculty, it would [go] against our beliefs to grant [the CNLU VC position to Bhat],“ added the student.

We have reached out for comment to Bhat and Lakshminath, but have not heard back.

What CNLU students want, and why

(Note: For the avoidance of doubt, we have never reported any allegations against Bhat having been personally involved in “financial embezzlement” or “corruption", although the SJA alleged that he did not take sufficient action against the impropriety of others, with which others disagree).

According to the students' letter, they demand the following:

1. Cancellation of appointment of new Vice Chancellor Prof.(Dr.) P. Ishwara Bhat. It is pertinent to note that Prof. (Dr.) Ishwara Bhat has had two ‘No-Confidence' petitions against him by the Student Juridical Association, NUJS during his six year tenure. Prof. Bhat's style of administering affairs at NUJS including problems under the heads such as corruption, arbitrariness in appointment of Faculty, his inaction against the allegations of sexual harassment, financial embezzlement, transparency, academics, infrastructure, health and hygiene, curbing student liberties out of retribution, mismanagement of University Funds. In light of the above contentions raised against him, we implore you to address this issue as a matter of utmost importance, as his alleviation to this position of High Integrity is extremely questionable.

The CNLU students' demands continue:

2. No extension and non- continuance of the incumbent Vice Chancellor to hold any post in the University. We are highly aggrieved with various issues of concern under his administration since the inception of the university including lack of transparency in allocation of funds, absence of permanent faculty and academic initiatives, no infrastructural development, no accountability and transparency in administrative procedures, absence of administrative support for organising cultural and academic events among others. Hence, no interim post shall be created for him such as Chairman or Pro- Chancellor.

3. Procedure for the appointment of new Vice Chancellor should begin from the preliminary stage of inviting applications for the same. Students of CNLU should be made aware of the procedure, criteria, and actions taken for the appointment of the new Vice Chancellor with absolute transparency. Till the appointment of a new Vice Chancellor, the Hon'ble Chancellor of CNLU shall serve as the interim Vice Chancellor to govern the institutional and functional aspect of the University.

The situation at CNLU is exacerbated by students' belief that outgoing vice chancellor Lakshminath has operated CNLU in an opaque manner, without having given students any account of funds received by the state and how they had been utilised.

One student told us that CNLU still lacked a sufficient moot court hall and auditorium, while faculty appointments were sometimes arbitrary and several permanent faculty positions have been unfilled for a while.

Bhat himself has not been great on the transparency front (though in fairness, neither have a lot of other law school VCs).

Some CNLU students also appear to have repeated more serious allegations on social media against Bhat.

However, for the record and to the best of our knowledge these are unsubstantiated, and there have never been any public allegations of financial impropriety against Bhat himself. NUJS students had, however, in a no confidence motion alleged that Bhat did not take sufficient action over others' financial irregularities that had come to light (others have argued that Bhat actually made good efforts in investigating allegations of corruption in the administration - see more details below).

Dubbing it a “#thumbsdownrevolt” on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the protesting CNLU students have also published a change.org petition entitled “To seek urgent intervention against appointment of Prof Ishwara Bhat as the VC, CNLU Patna”, on the night of 16 March, from when they have been sitting at the gates of CNLU's campus.

That online petition currently has just under 900 signatures.

Students have also recorded a video of their discussions with CNLU academic council member and VC search committee member PK Sahi, in which they repeated more serious allegations against Bhat, citing previou Legally India articles. Sahi rejected those as insufficient evidence of some of the charges the students alleged.

(Note: Again, for the record, we have never previously reported of any financial impropriety on Bhat's part, nor have we heard of any credible allegations to date.)

The cases for and against Bhat

We have, however, reported the two no confidence motions against Bhat's style of administration by the SJA (as well as by NUJS alumni in 2014).

The SJA petitions we were told had been triggered by alleged infrastructural deficiencies, a lack of transparency in administration, and other problems at NUJS.

An anonymous but fairly balanced rebuttal on website Quora in response to the question “Is it a good thing for CNLU that they are getting NUJS VC Ishwara Bhat? Is he actually as bad as Legally India articles portray him to be?”, argued that Bhat's reputation was in-part a matter of bad PR (we can't necessarily confirm the veracity of all of the below allegations), but in the interest of balance have reproduced them in full since Bhat has not answered our calls for comment since last week:

Ishwar Bhat has been at NUJS for 6 years now. To be honest, his initial years at NUJS were not very good. He did not come from NLU background so he really screwed up initially. For example, he decided that people with one year LLM (Most people who do their LLM from UK or USA have one year LLM degree) degree cannot be hired and cannot be promoted. Now, that is plain stupid because usually the brighter academics got their LLMs abroad. They left NUJS en masse.

Also what went against him big time was that he picked up a fight with Prof Shamnad Basheer, an enormously popular teacher at NUJS, who had influences and admirers in very high places. Shamnad Basheer resigned after fighting with the VC agains and again for what he felt is right, and that launched a avalanche of bad publicity for the VC. Funny thing is that the VC wasn’t really agains Basheer, rather some other faculty members were gunning for him due to basheers increasing status at NUJS and feared that he may soon become the VC, which they wanted to avoid at any cost.

However, while these juggernaut got rid of Basheer by keeping the gun on the VCs shoulder, it earned the VC serious bad raps with students, alumni and other people close to NUJS. Since then, platforms like legallyindia has been hammering away at the VC for years at every chance they got.

On the other hand, after mass exodus of good faculty, students went on a belligerent mode. They sent off letters to everyone from CJI to law minister.

All this while, the registrar was engaging in massive corruption. Student activists soon discovered this and went for his throat. The VC saw first hand the power of students at NUJS. He decided to be student friendly henceforth and have tried his best to keep the students in good humour. While as an academician or administrator he is no match to MP Singh, his predecessor, he tried his best to do some good work at NUJS despite massive backlash from faculty members.

He tried to curb corruption. For one, he fought a legal battle against the corrupt registrar and saw it to logical end over 1.5 years. Usually a VC will file a police complaint and forget. But he filed cases in the high court, contested every application the registrar filed to save himself, hired good lawyers and effectively destroyed him.

He installed a ERP system to reduce delays and corruption. When there is an electronic trail of every work being done, it is a lot more difficult to engage in corruption. It is also a big antidote to the bureaucracy and inefficiency that is widespread amongst NUJS staff.

He introduced procurement regulations at every stage. For mess, for library, for any public works - no mare opportunities to for the faculty members and staff members to make some extra buck on the side. This made him a great number of enemies within NUJS administration.

He introduced many academic regulations that required faculty members to perform rather than make students happy by doling out favours. This made him enemies amongst students as well as faculty members.

he introduced CCTV cameras in classrooms, which ensured that faculty members had to come to class on time, could not leave the students early, and could not give fake attendance to students. Again, this was a major reason more students got angry with him.

He started appointing government contractors like PWD for every work in the campus, cutting out all possibility of allegation of corruption.

He undertook a massive infrastructure upgradation project, made new auditoriums, put AC in classrooms, upgraded mess hall and equipments everywhere. He even repaired the roads and lights which were in a bad condition.

His biggest feat is however getting land from west bengal government for expansion of NUJS campus. He got almost 1 acre of land and sanctioned a plan to develop a hostel that will accommodate 600 students more. He even planned a terrace cafe.

If his plans are carried out, in his presence or absence, NUJS will be transformed for once and all.

However, his past reputation continues to haunt him. he really needs a good PR person who can help to improve his image by putting out the real facts about him. That is all I can say.

Students really don’t care because the VC has managed to keep them mostly happy. You cannot judge what the students want by reading anonymous comments on legallyindia. Most of those are clearly written by angry faculty members and staff who are missing their access to power or side income.

If you agree, disagree or would like to respond to the above, we welcome your views in the comments.

Protests in Patna continue

Meanwhile, protests continue at CNLU.

Though the law school lacks a student body, this is not CNLU's first experience with student protests against the administration: for instance, in 2011 they went on hunger strike over a lack of job opportunities, while also briefly protesting against sexual harassment by faculty.

Call for NLU solidarity against Bhat appointment as CNLU VC
Call for NLU solidarity against Bhat appointment as CNLU VC

At one point media was at the campus gates - resulting in some coverage - with numbers of protesting students ranging from 20, upwards. At another time the page admin posted:

Some guys are still carrying our cause and sitting on VC's gate.That is the true spirit of this protest.Today we realised that us protesting for few hours is not the answer.Thus we humbly request every guy who can get out of the hostel to please join the guys and all the girls to join them 5:00 am as soon as the gate opens. Also this protest will continue 24hrs from tomorrow,even the girls are requested to stay out all night. This is the only answer and way.

According to sources, CNLU students have been in touch with the NUJS Student Juridical Association (SJA) since 15 March, when we published about Bhat's appointment order, and the current protest adds to internal pressure at NUJS from the SJA on Bhat not to bury the first ever review commission report of NUJS.

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