After Lose-Lose Verdict, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan Slams Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

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'I Was Used By Chief Minister': Kerala Governor After Court Verdict

New Delhi:

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has claimed “pressure tactics” by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan led to his re-appointment of Gopinath Ravindran as Vice Chancellor of Kannur University in November 2021. The claim came after the Supreme Court quashed Mr Ravindran’s re-appointment.

Speaking to reporters shortly after the verdict, Mr Khan hit out strongly at the Chief Minister’s Office, declaring “whole pressure was from CMO” and that Mr Vijayan’s “legal advisor” tried to influence him.

“It is wrong to blame the Education Minister (who) was used by the Chief Minister. It was not the minister who came to my office but an individual who claimed to be the Chief Minister’s legal advisor.”

Mr Khan said he would not press for the resignation of the Education Minister.

Neither the Kerala government nor the Chief Minister has responded so far. VD Satheesan, the Leader of the Opposition, has, and the Congress leader has demanded the Education Minister resign.

In a significant verdict, the court rebuked both sides, criticising the state for “unwarranted intervention” and Mr Khan for having “abdicated” statutory powers for re-appointing the Vice Chancellor.

A bench led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud set aside two judgements of the Kerala High Court – both of which upheld the appointment – and said “the decision to re-appoint was influenced by extraneous considerations or, to put it in other words, by the unwarranted intervention of the state”.

This, the court, noted, was despite the notification having been issued by Mr Khan, who is the ex-officio Chancellor of state-run universities and ha the power to act independently of the Council of Ministers.

Justice JB Pardiwala, also on the bench, said the court addressed several questions, including if a re-appointment is permissible when tenures are fixed, and finally decided “on facts… the Chancellor abdicated or surrendered statutory power of re-appointment, rendering decision-making process bad”. 

The bench did not concern itself with the candidate’s suitability. It only said that since the law conferred the Chancellor with the required competence, “no other person can interfere with statutory authority”.

The Kerala government and Governor have squabbled over the appointment of Vice Chancellors of state universities for over a year, dating to Mr Khan’s October 2022 order demanding nine resign.

This was after the state appointed its own candidates as Vice Chancellors.

READ | “Waging War…”: Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan Slams Governor’s Latest Order

The ensuing spat saw the ruling Left Democratic Alliance and the opposition accuse each other of trying to insert their respective political ideologies into educational institutions.

In December the Kerala Assembly passed the University Laws (Amendment) Bill that replaces the Governor as the Chancellor in favour of noted academicians. The state argued the Governor’s move was an “encroachment” of its powers and that universities had to be “academically independent”.

READ | Kerala Assembly Passes Bill To Remove Governor As Universities’ Chancellor

However, that bill – forwarded to Mr Khan’s table for assent – has generated controversy of its own after (predictably), the Governor refused to sign off; it has been “reserved for consideration”.

READ | “What Was Kerala Governor Doing For 2 Years On Bills”: Supreme Court

On that topic, the Supreme Court came down strongly on Governor Arif Khan Wednesday, demanding to know why he has been “sitting” for two years on bills passed by the legislature.

The University Laws Bill is one of seven “reserved”, an action that has invited a legal challenge from the state government and a plea for guidelines for governors to assent, or decline, bills.

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