Appointment of VC in West Bengal

Supreme Court: In the ongoing dispute between the West Bengal Government and Governor, who is also the Chancellor of the State-aided Universities, regarding the appointment of Vice-Chancellors (VC) of Universities, the Division Bench of Surya Kant* and KV Viswanathan, JJ. ordered for the constitution of a separate or joint Search-­cum-­Selection Committee and appointed Former Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit as the Chairperson of the Search­-cum-Selection Committee for all the Universities.


The present matter revolves around the appointment of the Vice­Chancellors of the State-aided Universities. The State appointed 24 Vice­Chancellors in the year 2022 and the said appointments along with the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2012 and the West Bengal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014, were challenged before the High Court in a Public Interest Litigation. The High Court vide judgement dated 14-03-2023 held that the Search Committee constituted by the State Government for the selection of those 24 Vice­Chancellors did not have any Member nominated by the Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and since the said Search Committee was in violation of the UGC Act, the appointment of 24 Vice­Chancellors was unsustainable in law. The Division Bench judgment was upheld by this Court.

Later, several amendments were made by the State in the State Universities Act in tune with the UGC Regulations, 2018. However, instead of resorting to the statutorily prescribed procedure for appointment of regular Vice-Chancellors, the Minister­in­charge of the Department of Higher Education, Government of West Bengal, sent a proposal on 18-05-2023 to the Chancellor for extending the tenure of 27 Vice-Chancellors whose tenure was about to expire. The Chancellor, appointed ‘Interim Vice­Chancellors’ and as many as 28 professors were given such assignments. The appointments of these ad­hoc Vice­Chancellors was challenged by the respondent 1 through a Public Interest Litigation, which the High Court not only dismissed vide impugned judgment dated 28­06­2023 but also conferred perks and other monetary benefits on its own to these acting Vice­Chancellors. The said decision was stayed by the Court, vide order dated 06-10-2023. The rift between the State Government, on the one hand, and the Governor of West Bengal, on the other, who happens to be the Chancellor of subject Universities, is the root cause. There is no consensus between the two authorities in the matter of constitution and composition of Search Committees for shortlisting the candidates for appointment as Vice Chancellors.

Search­cum­Selection Committee

Submissions of a consolidated list of the names proposed by the State Government/Chief Minister/Chancellor/UGC and other prescribed authorities to constituting Search Committees was agreed on. The State Government had sent a list of 15 names for appointment of Vice­Chancellors in 15 Universities. The Chancellor found 07 of them unsuitable and apparently had no objection against the remaining 08 persons. Hence, the Court directed for those 8 to be appointed within 10 days. Regarding the remaining Universitiies, the Court agreed upon on the joint request of the parties, that a Search­cum­Selection Committee shall be constituted by the Court before the next date of hearing.

In order to infuse transparency, independence, fairness, and impartiality so as to ensure that the persons possessing the highest level of competence and integrity and are capable of leading the University by example are shortlisted, the Court shortlisted experts who are eminent scientists, educationists, jurists, subject experts, and administrators in their own right. For the said purpose, the Court categorized the Universities into following heads, of Universities with faculties predominantly in:

  1. Arts and science

  2. Commerce and science

  3. Arts

  4. Science

  5. Other miscellaneous and multi­disciplinary universities

The Court appointed former Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit, as the Chairperson of the Search­cum-Selection Committees for all the Universities and authorized him to constitute separate or joint Search­cum­Selection Committees for one or more Universities, keeping in view the nature of subjects/disciplines in which education is being imparted in such pooled Universities. The Court said that the Chairperson is requested to nominate 4 persons out of the empaneled experts, whom he finds capable of short­listing suitable names for appointment as Vice­Chancellors.

The Chairperson shall preside over such Committee and hence, the composition of each such Committee shall be five. The Search­cum­Selection Committee shall prepare a panel of at least 03 names (alphabetically and not in order of merit) for each University. The court also made the Department of Higher Education, Government of West Bengal as the nodal department of the State Government to issue advertisements giving vide publicity to invite applications for the posts of Vice­Chancellors.

The Court laid down that such advertisements shall:

  1. contain the details of the requisite qualification and other eligibility conditions, with a specific reference to this Court’s order so as to infuse confidence, leaving no uncertainty in the minds of the meritorious aspirants in submitting their claims;

  2. the advertisements shall give four weeks’ time to submit the applications. Such applications shall be scrutinized by the department concerned of the State Government within one week and shall thereafter the entire set of all applications be placed before the Chairperson of the Search­cum­Selection Committee, who in turn, will get the dossier of each candidate prepared for consideration of the Search­cum­Selection Committee.

The Search Committee may endeavour to complete their task within three months from the date of order. The Court also mentioned that, if the Chief Minister has reasons to believe that any short­listed person is unsuitable for appointment as Vice­Chancellor, the remarks to this effect along with supporting material and the original record of the recommendation made by the Search­cum­Selection Committee, shall be put up before the Chancellor within two weeks. The Chief Minister shall be entitled to recommend the shortlisted names in order of preference for appointment as Vice­Chancellors.

[State of West Bengal v. Sanat Kumar Ghosh, 2024 SCC OnLine SC 1645, Decided on: 08-07-2024]

*Judgment Authored by: Justice Surya Kant

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