Apprentice Lawyer

How NUJS students played a role in the dismissal of the University’s Registrar

Aditya AK

A group of students of National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata were instrumental in the ouster of a Registrar who was found guilty of mismanagement of university funds.

As the final nail in the coffin, a few weeks ago, the Calcutta High Court dismissed a petition filed by former Registrar Surajit Chandra Mukhopadhyay challenging his dismissal from the University.

The saga dates back to 2014, when NUJS student Payoshi Roy made a complaint to Vice-Chancellor Dr. Ishwara Bhat alleging mismanagement of funds. The Students Juridical Association (SJA) pitched in, asking for the VC to conduct an enquiry into the allegations. Thus began a journey that would dig up the skeletons in the ex-Registrar closet.

At a subsequent Executive Council meeting, after the VC brought up the SJA’s complaint, he was empowered to conduct the investigation.

Pursuant to the Council’s resolution, the VC appointed retired High Court judge and former Vice Chancellor of NLU Jodhpur NN Mathur J. to head the probe committee. Based on this committee’s report, the Registrar was suspended. This suspension order was challenged in the  Calcutta High Court. The court appointed another retired judge, Justice PN Sinha as Enquiry Officer, to conduct a free and fair investigation.

During the course of the new probe, the University moved the High Court to add fresh charges against the Registrar. The court assented to this and fixed the date of completion of investigation to June 30, 2015. That date was subsequently extended and the investigation drew to a close on September 23, 2015.

The Enquiry Officer found the Registrar guilty of most of the charges framed against him. After a long drawn battle in the court, the Executive Council passed an order dismissing him from service in June 2016.

A few of the charges he was found guilty of are explained below.

For starters, Mukhopadhyay was required to assign repairs costing more than 3 lakh rupees to the Public Works Department. Instead, he chose to get it done through private contractors. Additionally, he did not take the approval of the Executive Council or the Finance Committee of the University before procuring 106 air conditioners for a total of 45.33 lakh rupees. Moreover, the ex-Registrar did not follow protocol and consult experts before installing four two-ton ACs in each classroom.

He started the decoration of some rooms on campus without obtaining a cost estimate and inviting tenders. He was also found guilty of procuring chairs at way above the cost price. This was found out after a group of students had obtained quotations for the same brand and style of chairs.

He was also charged with giving undue favour to his Personal Assistant, who allegedly helped in destroying certain files of the University after he was charged of the misdoings. Further, he was found guilty of failing to supply information as PIO of the University.

Mukhopadhyay then chose to approach the High Court again, this time to challenge the dismissal order. He was represented in court by Senior Advocate Kishore Dutta, while Senior Advocate Pratik Dhar appeared for NUJS.

During the proceedings, it was argued that the Vice-Chancellor did not have power to initiate disciplinary proceedings in the first place. Moreover, it was contended that the Executive Council was not empowered under the University statute to delegate such a power to the VC.

However, the Single bench of Justice Debangsu Basak held in a judgment dated 26 July,

“The V.C. is a superior rank to that of the Registrar for the University concerned. As an officer of superior rank to that of the Registrar, the V.C. has the power to initiate a disciplinary proceedings against the Registrar, independent of the delegation of power by the E.C.”

Therefore, Mukhopadhyay’s petition was dismissed and the dismissal order of the Executive Council stands.

Talking about the role of the student body in the Registrar dismissal, former President of the SJA Akshat Gupta and former Vice-President Adithya Iyer said,

“It was at our behest that the University initiated action against him. It was due to the relentless pursuit of the student body that this matter was dealt with expeditiously and in a free and fair manner.

The students even turned into investigators. Adithya and I, along with our friend Jay Sayta, personally investigated into some of the matters. In one instance, posing as customers, we sought a quotation from the same vendor who had supplied the chairs to the University. We were shocked to learn that the University had paid at a staggering price of Rs 7,500 per chair whereas we, as mere retail customers, had been quoted Rs 3,500 per chair. And this was just one instance.

The period after these disclosures was particularly challenging as several supporters of the corrupt official made attempts to undermine our cause on irrelevant grounds. Some even tried to hush up the matter and divert attention. We are happy and grateful that despite such attempts, the truth has come out.

We want to take this opportunity to thank every student of NUJS for believing in the strength of collective action and not losing hope in the face of adversity. We must wholeheartedly thank, among others, each of the following for their unwavering support in seeing this through: Jay Sayta, Bedavyasa Mohanty, Payoshi Roy, Ashna Ashesh, Malavika Chandu, Ujjwala Uppuluri, Deep Rao Palepu, Anviti Chaturvedi, Smaran Shetty, Srishti Goyal, and Prashanth Mukundan.”

Read the High Court judgment:

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news