Priya Varghese unqualified as Kannur varsity professor: Kerala HC

Updated on Nov 18, 2022 05:55 AM IST

The high court has directed the varsity to publish a fresh rank list based on the guidelines of the University Grants Commission.

A controversy had erupted after it was alleged that Priya Varghese was appointed to the post flouting all norms of the UGC and overlooking deserving candidates. (HT Photo)
A controversy had erupted after it was alleged that Priya Varghese was appointed to the post flouting all norms of the UGC and overlooking deserving candidates. (HT Photo)
By, Thiruvananthapuram

In a big setback to the CPI(M)-led state government the Kerala high court on Thursday held that CPI(M) leader K K Ragesh’s wife Priya Varghese was unqualified to become an associate professor in Kannur University.Ragesh is chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary.

The high court has directed the varsity to publish a fresh rank list based on the guidelines of the University Grants Commission.

A controversy had erupted after it was alleged that Varghese was appointed to the post flouting all norms of the UGC and overlooking deserving candidates.

The appointment was a major bone of contention between governor Arif Mohammad Khan and the state government.

On August 17, the governor in his capacity as the chancellor had stayed Varghese’s posting vitiating ties between two.

The single bench of justice Devan Ramachandran accepted the contention of petitioner Joseph Skariah, who came second in the rank list, that “Varghese was not qualified and she did not have requisite teaching experience but she was interviewed and given the first rank flouting all norms”. The court also made it clear that no university is above the rules and regulations laid out by the UGC.

“Teaching experience can be a real fact and not a fiction or inference. Unless a candidate is able to show real experience in teaching as required by the UGC regulations, 2018, he or she should not have had their applications approved by the scrutiny committee of the university,” the court observed while rejecting her contention that her post with the National Service Scheme and language institute should be considered as teaching experience.

According to the UGC norms at least 10 years of teaching experience is mandatory for the post but her teaching experience was less than five years. She had later cited her posting with other departments to claim 11 years’ experience but the court rejected her contention.

‘Teachers play a significant role in nation building’

“Teachers play a significant role in nation building. They must be like a candlelight that leads through darkness. According to the UGC, 10-year experience is mandatory for a candidate to be considered for the post. But not all qualifications put forth by her can be considered as academic experience,” the court said.

“Working with the NSS or serving as student services co-ordinator are non-teaching professions. Her tenure as the assistant director at the language institute also cannot be considered as teaching experience. The scrutiny committee made an error while evaluating her qualifications,” the court held. The judge took more than two-and-a-half-hours to read out his judgement in the open court broaching upon several points and counter points raised by the petitioner, defendant and university.

In his petition, Skariah said that he ended up on second spot despite having a research score of 651 compared to Priya Varghese’s 156. Also an assistant professor with 18 years of experience, he said that the Varghese climbed to the top after the interview conducted by a panel led by the vice- chancellor Gopinath Raveendran. There was a big uproar when she came on top in last November.

“This is in important judgment and I am sure it will address some of the nagging problems in the higher education sector and end nepotism and other factors that really pull back our varsities,” said Skariah.

Reacting to the development, Varghese said she accepts the verdict and will take appropriate action after consulting with her lawyers. However, CPI(M) Kannur district secretary M V Jayarajan said, “If teaching experience was sole criteria in such posts many teachers will have to leave”. State higher education minister R Bindhu said her appointment was done by the university and the government never interfered in it.

The Save University Campaign Committee (SUCC), a whistle blower in the higher education sector, hailed the verdict. “It is a path-breaking judgment and it will help eligible candidates to come up,” said chairman R S Sasikumar.

Soon after Verghese came on top in the rank list, SUCC had released a list of short-listed candidates before interview and her score was lowest among the six applicants. The verdict also questioned the role of Kannur vice chancellor who allegedly played a key role in her elevation. Despite repeated attempts, the V-C was not available for comments.

Last month, the Supreme Court had quashed the appointment of APJ Abddul Kalam University V-C M S Rajashree for flouting UGC norms and last week the high court had revoked the appointment of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Science K Riji John. The governor has been questioning “the government’s intervention in universities and backdoor entries which has been affecting standard of the higher education sector”. He even said many varsities were turned party nurseries but the government shot back saying “he was trying to saffronise varsities in Kerala.”

“The HC verdict is a slap on the face of the government which has been reduced to the recruiting firm of party cadres and supporters. The Kannur V-C has no right to continue in his office,” said state Congress president K Sudhakaran. “The government should revoke many such appointments in varsities and tender apology,” said BJP state president K Surendran.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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