In a major embarrassment for the vice chancellor of Mumbai University Rajan Welukar, the Bombay high court on Thursday held that the decision of the search committee to shortlist Welukar as an eligible candidate for the post, suffered from non-application of mind.
The division bench of justice PV Hardas and justice Anuja Prabhudesai also ruled that it can use its `special jurisdiction' to direct the selection committee to reconsider its decision of shortlisting Welukar.
The court was hearing a reference made by original bench of chief justice Mohit Shah, after the bench gave a split verdict.
On August 10, 2011, the bench of chief justice Shah and Justice Godbole had delivered a split verdict. While justice Shah held that Welukar had the necessary qualifications, justice Godbole noted that of the 12 publications cited by Welukar, only a few could be considered as they came after his September 2004 PhD. A third judge had expressed his inability to decide the issue referred to him.
The reference included two questions:
1) whether the decision of the search committee suffered from non-application of mind vis-à-vis eligibility criteria of having published at least five research papers in peer-reviewed journals,
2) Whether the court should exercise its special jurisdiction and directed the committee to reconsider the eligibility of Welukar.
The bench on Thursday answered both the questions in affirmative. It also observed that seven out of 12 research papers submitted by Welukar did not meet requirement of the eligibility condition.
It observed that there was no material on record to indicate that the committee had applied its mind and considered whether the seven papers needed to be discarded and whether the remaining five papers fulfilled the requirement.
The bench further noted that the then advocate general failed to point out which five of the 12 papers were taken into consideration by the Committee. "These facts lead to an inevitable conclusion that the Committee had abdicated its function by accepting the claim of Respondent no. 8 (Dr. Welukar), as disclosed in his resume at face value," the bench noted in this regard.
"This, in our view is an error touching the decision making process," the bench concluded and declared that the Committee did not apply its mind vis-à-vis the eligibility condition of having 5 research papers published in peer-reviewed publications.
The bench has now sent the matter back to the bench headed by chief justice Mohit Shah, which is expected to issue consequential directions.
Social activists Niteen Deshpande and Vasant Genu Patil, and Dr. AD Sawant, former vice chancellor of Rajasthan University have questioned Welukar's appointment on various grounds, primarily contending that he did not fulfil requisite eligibility criteria for appointment on the post.
The search committee, headed by Prof AS Kolaskar, vice chancellor, KIIT University, Bhubaneshwar and comprising of Prof P Balaram, director, Indian Institute of Science, Bangaluru and JS Saharia, principal secretary, relief and rehabilitation, had first short-listed 20 candidates, including Welukar, from the list of 98 applicants.
It had ultimately recommended five names to the governor after which Welukar was appointed as vice chancellor of the University of Mumbai.