Chhattisgarh HC cuts short Dr Sukhpal Singh’s tenure as HNLU VC

Chhattisgarh HC cuts short Dr Sukhpal Singh’s tenure as HNLU VC

Meera Emmanuel

The Chhattisgarh High Court has quashed the 2014 term-extension granted to Dr Sukhpal Singh as Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur.

Allowing a writ appeal filed by Assistant Professor and member of the Executive Council (EC) Dr Avinash Samal, the Court held that the EC had recommended the extension of Dr Singh’s tenure prematurely, before they had the power to do so under the HNLU Act, 2003.

A Single Judge of the High Court had earlier dismissed Dr Samal’s writ petition, holding that he did not have the locus standi to pursue the case, given that his rights were not violated on account of Dr Sukh Pal Singh’s term extension.

The Division Bench of the High Court, however, disagreed, holding that it can interfere under Article 226 in the interest of justice if the HNLU Act is being violated.

Dr Sukhpal Singh was appointed as the VC for HNLU in March 2011 for a period of five years, or until he crossed the superannuation age of 65 years,  whichever is earlier.

As per the terms of his original appointment, Dr Sukhpal Singh’s tenure was due to end on December 31, 2014, on his completing 65 years of age.

However, in April 2014, Section 19(5) of the HNLU Act was amended to extend the superannuation age for VCs to 70 years. Therefore, the tenure of Dr Sukhpal Singh as HNLU’s VC was extended to March 2016.

On September 6, 2014, the EC proposed that the HNLU Act be amended again so that the VC be extended further on expiry of his normal tenure, subject to the upper limit of 70 years. This amendment was to be incorporated into the HNLU Act as Section 19 (5) A.

However, the contentious issue was that on the same date, the EC also recommended that VC Sukhpal Singh’s tenure be extended, in a purported exercise of powers conferred under the proposed Section 19(5)A.

This recommendation was made subject to the publication of the proposed amendment in the official gazette.

Nevertheless, the Division Bench of Justices Goutam Bhadri and Sanjay Agrawal faulted the EC for having made the recommendation even before it was notified or published, contrary to the mandate under Section 15 of the HNLU Act.

As per Section 15, an amendment to the HNLU Act will only come into force after it receives the assent of the Chancellor and is published in the Official Gazette.

In this case, the Chancellor gave his assent for the incorporation of Section 19(5)A only on November 22, more than a month after the EC made its recommendation. The Official Gazette notification was made on November 25, 2014.

The actual extension of tenure was ordered by the Chancellor thereafter on December 2, 2014. However, the fact remained that the recommendation for such extension was made by the EC at a time when it had no powers to do so.

As articulated by Justice Sanjay Agrawal in his concurring opinion,

“Why was the Executive Council so hurry? Why the Executive Council proceeded in such a manner despite knowing fully the said legal position? Why was the existing Vice-Chancellor of the University alone authorised to meet the Chancellor of the University for assent of the so-called “proposed amendment” which is going to be benefited to him only? Why could not have waited at least for issuance of publication, as required under sub-section (6) of Section 15 of the Act of 2003?

All these acts of the Executive Council are not supported by the law, and therefore, illegal action of theirs cannot be held to be legalised subsequently by virtue of issuance of Notification on 25.11.2014 under sub section (6) of Section 15 of the Act of 2003.”

Consequently, the appeal was allowed and the Chancellor’s December 2014 order extending Dr Sukhpal Singh’s tenure as HNLU’s VC has been set aside.

Read the Order:

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