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Prof Shamnad Basheer quits NUJS after losing ‘trust’ in ‘vindictive’ VC

Basheer quit 'shock'
Basheer quit 'shock'

Shamnad Basheer, the ministry of HRD chair professor in intellectual property law at NUJS Kolkata, has resigned after losing trust in vice chancellor (VC) Prof Ishwara Bhat.

Basheer wrote in his resignation email to Bhat on 31 December 2013 that the VC had “misrepresented” to the executive committee the work Basheer had done while he was on compassionate leave without pay from the university, to take care of his ill father, who has now recovered from cancer.

Bhasheer had requested one semester’s leave without pay in August 2013; Bhat had replied that he would take up Basheer’s request before the executive committee (EC) where he hoped it would be considered sympathetically.

However, Basheer alleged in his resignation email that Bhat later opposed the leave application before the EC, claiming that Basheer did no credible work as IP chair while away, which Basheer said was not true. Despite the VC’s alleged opposition, the EC retrospectively signed off on Basheer’s leave on 14 September.

Basheer wrote to Bhat in his resignation: “I was extremely hurt and disillusioned with this misrepresentation and can no longer bring myself to trust you. I find no other reason for your stunning volte-face, than my constant questioning of your policies.

“As several of my colleagues at NUJS know, I had taken serious issue with the unhealthy opacity that you unleashed at NUJS after taking charge. I was appalled at the way in which earlier policies that catapulted NUJS to the top of the academic league were reversed without due discussion and deliberation with your faculty colleagues.”

Particularly, Basheer wrote he took issue with Bhat’s refusal to grant a Skype interview to a promising potential faculty member based in the Netherlands, who went on to join IIT Delhi, and Bhat’s “vindictive” behaviour to Basheer and other faculty.

Basheer wrote that, for example, Bhat “showed great hostility” to the Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) initiative because Basheer had founded the project, which was now national.

Basheer declined to comment when contacted by Legally India. Bhat did not respond to an email and calls from Legally India.

NUJS registrar Dr Surajit Mukhopadhyay, commenting to Legally India via email only in a personal capacity as an “academic and a colleague”, said: “I am shocked to hear that Shamnad has put in his papers. One of the intellectually strong faculty on campus, I am sure that many would miss him as I would. I still hope that he will reconsider his decision.

“NUJS needs dynamic research oriented faculty and I have great expectations from him. Nevertheless these are decisions taken on a personal level and I wish him the best for his future. I personally would miss his wit and warmth.”

Before joining NUJS in 2008, Basheer graduated from NLSIU Bangalore in 1999, obtained an MPhil from Oxford University in 2004, and was a senior associate at IP firm Anand and Anand, a marketing director at consultancy Verist Research, research associate at Oxford IP Research Centre (OIPRC) and visiting associate professor at George Washsington Law School.

In March 2013, Sidharth Chauhan had was sacked from NLSIU Bangalore without notice, which he later attributed to his criticism of the vice chancellor. Chauhan joined Nalsar Hyderabad several months later.

Basheer’s full email to Bhat:

Dear Prof Bhat:

I hope this finds you well. I've been forwarded a note by the Hon'ble Registrar, informing me that the Executive Council (EC) kindly agreed to grant my leave (without pay) with retrospective effect, on grounds of my fathers' terminal illness (cancer).

I am deeply indebted to the EC members for their compassionate decision, owing to which I was able to spend some quality time with my father and take care of him. Fortunately, he recovered well and is much better now.

I am particularly obliged to the EC members for arriving at this considerate decision, despite your misrepresentation to them on the work of the IP Chair. You had opposed my leave application on the alleged ground that no credible work was being done on the IP Chair. This, despite the fact that several documents submitted to your office more than amply indicated the range of high quality IP work (research, scholarship, policy and IP outreach) that was being undertaken on a continuous basis, my leave notwithstanding. As you are no doubt aware, the IP Chair was set up by the Ministry of HRD at various premier institutions including the National Law Schools, IIT's and IIM’s to foster IP research, advanced IP teaching and to render high quality policy advice to the government from time to time. For the last 5 years of operation of the NUJS IP Chair, this has been done quite successfully, with the result that our chair is recognized as one of the leading IP chairs, with a reputation not only in India, but also abroad. The various annual reports submitted to your office and the Ministry of HRD bear ample testimony to this.

In fact, when I requested you for leave, I made it a point to mention that I would not let the activities of the IP Chair suffer in my absence, and would attend government meetings and engage in various other IP activities as far as possible. This was also on record in my email to you requesting for the leave. I attach this email for your kind reference.

Pursuant to that commitment, I made myself present in Delhi and various other places for government meetings whenever the occasion demanded, and as far as I could, throughout the tenure of my leave. In fact, as I began penning this email to you some days ago, I was in Chennai to render advisory services to the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a government agency with which I work extensively. I also engaged with University activities as best as I could and attended an Executive Council (EC) meeting at my own expense, whilst on leave.

Please note that all this was done on leave without drawing any salary whatsoever.

I attach an earlier email of yours, where you clearly indicated that you would support my application for leave. However, when the matter came up before the Executive Council (EC) meeting (which you chaired), you vehemently opposed my leave application, on the spurious ground that I had not performed and that no work was being done on the IP Chair.

I was extremely hurt and disillusioned with this misrepresentation and can no longer bring myself to trust you. I find no other reason for your stunning volte-face, than my constant questioning of your policies. As several of my colleagues at NUJS know, I had taken serious issue with the unhealthy opacity that you unleashed at NUJS after taking charge. I was appalled at the way in which earlier policies that catapulted NUJS to the top of the academic league were reversed without due discussion and deliberation with your faculty colleagues. I had, time and again, requested you to take stronger note of the fact that we were losing top quality faculty and to initiate measures to stem this tide. In particular, I took issue with your refusal to grant a Skype interview to a very promising Indian scholar from the Netherlands, owing to which we effectively lost him to IIT Delhi. You will recollect that the Executive Council also took strong note of this and recommended that Skype interviews be granted to scholars who are unable to fly at short notice to Kolkata. 

Time and again, I urged you to refrain from being vindictive towards faculty colleagues who were not in your good books, not least because I happened to be one of them. Despite the Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA) project being incubated out of NUJS, you showed great hostility to the movement only because I founded it. Today, this movement to empower underprivileged communities through legal education has made great progress, with 28 underprivileged scholars that we trained studying at the various National Law Universities (NLU’s). You refused to sign IDIA cheques, despite opinions from reputed tax experts in the country including leading senior counsel, Arvind Datar, who more than categorically opined that you could so sign without any impediment. This greatly hampered our operations and risked the future of several underprivileged scholars being trained by IDIA.

You then reversed an earlier policy initiated by Prof MP Singh that all IDIA scholars would be granted a fee waiver, if admitted to NUJS. You stipulated that only one IDIA scholar would be granted this waiver. As a result of this change in policy, we had to send two of our most promising scholars (who merited admission to NUJS) to NLU Delhi, where Prof Ranbir Singh, the Vice Chancellor, went out of his way to support these underprivileged scholars, including offering them a fee waiver and laptops. 

After much thought and deliberation, I've decided that I cannot serve under your leadership anymore. Please treat this as my resignation letter, to take effect on the 6th of February, 2014.

I write this with a very heavy heart, given how much NUJS and its students meant to me and what an intellectual exhilarating journey it was to work under the leadership of stalwarts such as Professor MP Singh. One of my friends asked me if I ever regret having cut short a promising academic career abroad to return to India. I think it was the best choice I ever made, not least because I was able to participate in the growth of one of the most promising Indian institutions and work with an exceptional  group of academics to help unleash a number of educational innovations. In many ways, while NLS, Bangalore signalled a revolutionary era in Indian legal education, NUJS took it to the next level with its dynamic emphasis on research, scholarship and advancing the frontiers of legal knowledge.

All of the petty politics and bureaucratic sluggishness that one encountered from time to time were more than made up by the passion, creativity and enthusiasm of our students, who are and will continue to remain our biggest asset. Borrowing a legendary line from a Bollywood classic (Deewar), my constant refrain has been: “Mere paas students hain”.

I will miss my students dearly, as also my wonderful faculty colleagues and members of the administration and support staff, all of whom made my time at NUJS extremely memorable, treating me as one of their very own.

Since I am on leave now, I will join the University on January 6th to wind up all pending work on the IP Chair from my end. If you need me to extend this date, or if there is any other work you wish me to undertake in the interim, including helping you locate a successor for the IP Chair, please do let me know.

With the hope that NUJS will restore someday to its former glory and serve as a leading site for legal education and scholarship, I remain

Most sincerely yours,

Shamnad Basheer

Correction: The letter we republished originally omitted several paragraphs.

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