Prof Shakeel appointed Jamia’ officiating VC after Delhi HC holds Prof Eqbal’s appointment illegal

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Prof Mohammed Shakeel being welcomed on his appointment as officiating vice chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia.

By Anwarulhaq Baig

NEW DELHI—The seniormost faculty member of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) Prof. Mohammad Shakeel has been appointed as officiating vice-chancellor of the JMI after the Delhi High Court held the appointment of Prof Eqbal Hussain as officiating VC illegal.

Prof Shakeel will work as an officiating VC till a regular vice chancellor is appointed. According to the High Court order, a regular VC has to be appointed within a period of 30 days.

Over his three-decade career at JMI, Prof. Shakeel has served in several key administrative roles like Dean, Controller of Examinations, and Head of Civil Engineering Department.

The order was issued in response to two writ petitions filed by Md Shami Ahmad Ansari and Mohd Anwar Khan, which challenged the appointments of Prof. Eqbal Hussain as Pro-Vice Chancellor in September 2023 and subsequently as the Officiating Vice Chancellor in November 2023.

The petitioners had alleged violations of statutory provisions under the Jamia Millia Islamia Act, 1988, as well as non-compliance of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations of 2018.

The single judge of Justice Tushar Rao Gedela observed that Prof. Hussain’s appointments were “contrary to law” and he could not be permitted to continue.

 “Since respondent no. 2 (Eqbal Hussain) has not been appointed in terms of Statute, his continuation in the office of Vice Chancellor as the Officiating Vice Chancellor cannot be permitted further,” the court ruled.

The Appointments Controversy

The controversy surrounding the appointments of Prof. Hussain dates back to September 2023, when the then Vice Chancellor, Prof. Najma Akhtar, appointed him as the Pro-Vice Chancellor. This appointment was made under Section 11(3) read with Statute 4(1) of the Jamia Millia Islamia Act, without the approval of the Executive Council, which is the appointing authority for the position.

In November 2023, as Prof. Akhtar’s tenure as Vice Chancellor was nearing its end, Prof. Hussain was appointed as the Officiating Vice Chancellor. This appointment was made based on Statute 2(6) of the JMI Act, which allows for the Pro-Vice Chancellor to take over as the Officiating Vice Chancellor in certain circumstances.

The petitioners, however, argued that these appointments were made in violation of the statutory provisions of the JMI Act, as well as the UGC Regulations on minimum qualifications for appointments of teachers and academic staff.

Sequence of events that led to Eqbal Hussain’s appointment

The court’s observations have brought to the fore the sequence of developments that led to Eqbal Hussain’s assumption of this temporary role.

According to the court’s findings, on September 14, 2023, the then Vice-Chancellor, Najma Akhtar, appointed Prof. Eqbal Hussain as the Pro Vice-Chancellor of JMI. A day later, on September 15, 2023, the Registrar’s Office issued a notification confirming Hussain’s assumption of the Pro Vice-Chancellor’s charge, effective September 14, 2023.

Subsequently, on September 26, 2023, an Office Order was issued, stating that in the event of the Vice-Chancellor’s office becoming vacant due to Akhtar’s resignation or inability to perform her duties, Eqbal Hussain would discharge the responsibilities of the Vice-Chancellor as the Officiating Vice-Chancellor until a new Vice-Chancellor took charge.

The court noted that Akhtar was on an overseas visit from September 27 to October 8, 2023, during which time Eqbal Hussain was appointed as the Officiating Vice-Chancellor in accordance with Statute 2(6) of the Jamia Millia Islamia Act. Consequently, an Office Order was issued on September 26, 2023, designating Hussain as the Officiating Vice-Chancellor during Akhtar’s absence.

The court further observed that on November 3, 2023, the then Vice-Chancellor, Najma Akhtar, informed the Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of India, about handing over the charge of Vice-Chancellor to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor upon her superannuation on November 12, 2023. Accordingly, on November 12, 2023, the Registrar’s Office issued an Office Order, entrusting the charge of Officiating Vice-Chancellor to Eqbal Hussain from November 13, 2023, until a new Vice-Chancellor assumed office.

Legal Arguments and Court’s Observations

During the hearing, the petitioners’ counsel, Mr. Rajshekhar Rao, contended that the university, being centrally funded, was bound to comply with the UGC regulations. He argued that the procedures followed in appointing Prof. Hussain were contrary to the JMI Act and the UGC Regulations of 2018.

Advocate Ankur Chhibber, representing Prof. Hussain, submitted that his continuation as the Officiating Vice Chancellor was within the scope of the Statutes and the exercise of such powers.

The court, however, found several irregularities in the appointment process. Justice Gedela noted that the mandate of Statute 4 of the JMI Act, which governs the appointment of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, was not followed. The court observed that despite the university’s claim that past practices involved obtaining post-facto approval from the Executive Council, there was no explanation as to why the Office Order appointing Prof. Hussain as Pro-Vice Chancellor was not placed before the Executive Council for approval.

Regarding the appointment as Officiating Vice Chancellor, the judge concludes, “It is to be kept in mind that the fact that the erstwhile VC was going to demit office due to expiry of her tenure by efflux of time was known to all and sundry. No explanation as to why steps in the ordinary course under Statute 2 of the Statutes of the University were not initiated well in time, has been placed on record. Moreover, the University in such a situation was not powerless to appoint the senior most Professor as Officiating VC in terms of proviso to Clause (6) of Statute 2. This court is acutely aware of the fact that the post of VC cannot be kept vacant having regard to the importance of the said post, both administratively and academically as well as for exercise of emergent powers, however, the appointments to such post have to be sacrosanct and above board.”

The court’s order has also set a strict timeline for the appointment of a regular Vice Chancellor. The Visitor of JMI, the President of India, must initiate the process within two weeks and complete the appointment within 30 days thereafter.

The ruling has been hailed as a victory for transparency and adherence to statutory norms in the higher education sector. The university community, students, and stakeholders are now eagerly awaiting the appointment of a regular Vice Chancellor, hoping for a smooth and swift resolution to the crisis and a return to normalcy on the campus.

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