Supreme Court: The question for contemplation before the Division Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud* and Hima Kholi, JJ., was whether the State has authority to appoint or reappoint Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University under Section 8 of the Calcutta University Act, 1979 (hereinafter Act) or by taking recourse to the residuary provisions of Section 60 of the Act.

The High Court of Calcutta allowed a writ petition where the petitioner sought quo warranto against the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the University. The High Court observed that the State had no authority to reappoint the VC and set aside the order by Special Secretary to the Government to West Bengal reappointing Dr Sonali Chakarvarti Banerjee, hence the appeal.

Factual matrix of the case:

The State government in the Higher Education Department submitted proposals for the reappointment of the VC for four years which was not accepted, as the Chancellor sought certain clarifications. However, the Chancellor suo moto accorded an extension to the tenure of the VC for a period of three months under Section 8(2)(b) of the Act.

Meanwhile, the State government issued a notification on 27 August 2021 stating that: While extending the tenure of the VC, the Chancellor had invoked Section 8(2)(b) without consultation with the Minister, which was mandatory. The incumbent VC was being re-appointed with effect from 28 August 2021 for four years or until she attains the age of seventy, whichever is earlier, in terms of the provisions of Section 60 read with Section 8(2)(b) of the Act as amended in 2019;

However, ultimately, on the basis of its analysis, the High Court held that the State government had no authority to re-appoint the VC either under Section 8 or by taking recourse to the provisions of Section 60 and consequently held that the notification of 27 August 2021 was contrary to law. It is on that basis, that the re-appointment of the VC has been set aside. the High Court had held that the UGC Regulations envisage that the appointment of a VC can be made only by a Visitor / Chancellor and that the scheme of Section 8 empowers only the Chancellor to appoint, re-appoint, temporarily appoint or remove the VC.


Issue of quo warranto: The Supreme Court analysed the procedural objection regarding the limits of quo warranto. The Court while relying on the dictum in University of Mysore v. C.D. Govindra Rao, (1964) 4 SCR 575, observed that jurisdiction of the High Court to issue a writ of quo warranto is a limited one which can only be issued when the appointment is contrary to the statutory rules, hence Court has settled the position that the writ of quo warranto can be issued where an appointment has not been made in accordance with the law and was applicable to the facts of the case in hand.

Interpretation and Amendment to Section 8(2)(a) of the Act, 1979: The Court analysed the purview of Section 81 of the Act, 1979. The procedure for appointing a VC is prescribed in clauses (b) and (c) of Section 8(1), in the case of reappointment, the unamended provisions of Section 8(2)(a) provided earlier that a VC would be eligible for reappointment for a period not exceeding four years, “subject to the provisions of this Section”. The provisions of Section 8(2)(a) were substituted by the Amending Act of 2019. Section 8(2)(a) as amended stipulates that a VC shall be eligible for reappointment for another term of four years “subject to the satisfaction of the State government and on the basis of his past academic excellence and administrative success established during his term of office in the capacity of VC”.

It was observed by the Supreme Court that, Section 8(2)(a) sought to be interpreted by the appellants as indicating that the power of reappointment was taken away from the Chancellor and was entrusted to the State government, which was held to be an incorrect reading of the said provision. It was further held that, the expression “subject to the satisfaction of the State government” cannot by a process of inferential reasoning be construed to vest the power of reappointment in the State government. Hence, it was further observed that provision of Section 8 forecasts diverse situations. Eligibility for appointment was indeed determined by the State government’s satisfaction however, the power of making the appointment still vested in the Chancellor under Section 8(1)(b) of the Act.

The Supreme Court while relying on a decision of Privy Council in Quebec Railway, Light Heat & Power Co. Ltd. v. Vandry, AIR 1920 PC 181, observed that legislature is deemed not to say anything in vain and to mis-construct which results into redundancy to the legislature and so in the present case there was no express provision by which it could be inferred that the power for reappointment is not with the Chancellor anymore. Hence, it could be concluded that, a reappointment is the appointment of an existing incumbent who fulfils the conditions of eligibility. The power of appointment including of reappointment is entrusted to the Chancellor and not to the State government.

Re-appointment of the VC has to follow the same process as a fresh appointment: The Supreme Court analysed that under Section 8(6) stipulates the vacancy shall be filled in accordance with the provision of Section 8(1). The reference to the provisions of sub-Section (1) for filling up a vacancy on the expiration of the term of office will not apply to a case of reappointment because the procedure contemplated by Section 8(1)(b) of a search committee would not attach to a reappointment. Hence, the Supreme Court concluded that procedure prescribed in Section 8(1) not be followed in the process of reappointment.

Appeals dismissed.

[State of West Bengal v. Anindya Sundar Das, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1382, decided on 11-10-2022]

*Judgment by: Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud.

*Aastha Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

1. Section 8 makes provisions for firstly, the conditions of eligibility for holding the office of a VC; secondly, the term for which the office would be held; thirdly, the procedure for appointment; and fourthly, who has the power to make the appointment.

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