Thursday, December 11, 2014

High court slams Mumbai University panel for ‘mindless’ VC pick

Vice-chancellor for Mumbai University displayed "non-application of mind" in picking Rajan Welukar on the criterion of research publications, said the Bombay high court on Thursday, adding that the search committee should be directed to reconsider Welukar's eligibility.

Welukar, 55, was appointed on July 7, 2010, for five years. His appointment has been challenged by three persons, including one of his rivals for the V-C's post.

The division bench's judgment will be placed before a bench headed by HC chief justice Mohit Shah that originally heard the challenge for further orders.

The Justice Shah-led bench had made a reference to the division bench on only two points of the overall case. First, whether the three-member search committee's selection of Welukar as an eligible candidate on an essential criterion—five (out of 12) research publications must be post-PhD, peer-reviewed, published in international research journals and referred for study in higher education—suffers from non-application of mind. Second, should the HC in its extraordinary discretionary jurisdiction direct the search committee to reconsider Welukar's eligibility? The division bench of Justices P V Hardas and Anuja Prabhudessai answered in the affirmative for both.

In August 2011, a division bench headed by Justice Shah gave a split verdict on petitions challenging Welukar's appointment by differing on the five research publications. Subsequently, a single judge could also not decide on it. Hence, a reference was made to another division bench.

In a strongly-worded judgment written by Justice Prabhudessai, the bench said on Thursday that since there is no statutory requirement for the search panel to record reasons, it did not mean its decision should not be based on reason. It also did not confer upon it "any immunity from application of mind to all relevant considerations and exclude irrelevant consideration".

In Welukar's case, there is no material to indicate that the committee considered if seven of the 12 submitted publications were discarded and the remaining five fulfilled the eligibility criteria. Even in court, it could not specify which five publications were considered, said the ruling.

The judges said the facts lead to the conclusion that the search committee had abdicated its functions by accepting Welukar's claim disclosed in his resume at face value or relying entirely on notings prepared by a nodal officer without independently ascertaining whether the publications fulfilled the requirement of research publications and, consequently, whether Welukar possessed the minimum requisite eligibility. "This in our considered view is an error touching the decision-making process," they added.

The bench said neither the committee nor the chancellor was entitled to relax essential eligibility on research publications.

Passing the matter to the other bench, the judges said it is unable to decide if the five publications of Welukar meet the stipulated requirement; it is for an expert body to assess, review and determine.

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