-R. Kasturi (Bhubaneswar)
A confrontation between the odisha government and Delhi-based University Grants Commission (UGC) has prompted the Supreme Court to issue a stay order against the state government and Odisha Public Service Commission from proceeding with recruitment of professors and lecturers for the state’s 11 universities and affiliated colleges.
This confrontation dates back to last year when under the Odisha Universities (Amendment) Act, 2020, the state’s BJD government vested the power to select and appoint faculty for state universities in the Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC). However, according to UGC — the apex level organisation (estb.1956) that governs all higher education institutions countrywide — the directive is in violation of its regulations which stipulate that appointment of all vice chancellors and faculty in the country’s 1,043 universities and affiliated colleges must be made after UGC approval.
Taking exception to the BJD government short-circuiting this well-established recruitment process, Ajit Kumar Mohanty, a former JNU professor, filed a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Odisha Universities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and prayed for annulment of all appointments made under it. Meanwhile, OPSC had selected and issued appointment letters to 639 lecturers. In addition, on May 24, another 186 candidates selected for assistant professor posts were directed to get their documents verified.
However, admitting Prof. Mohanty’s petition on May 20, the Supreme Court issued a stay order on the recruitment process for three months and directed the state government to respond to the writ petition. But on the ground that education is a concurrent subject under the Constitution, the state government continued with the recruitment process.
This prompted UGC secretary Rajnish Jain to write to OPSC warning that “continuation of the recruitment process will be in the teeth of the stay order dated May 20, 2022 granted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court”.
Although initially OPSC spokespersons stated that the apex court’s stay order would not impact the appointment of 908 professors and lecturers, on May 26, the state government put the recruitment process on hold. The document verification of 186 candidates and interviews for assistant professors scheduled for June have also been put on hold.
The ill-advised disregard of the apex court’s stay order — until better counsel prevailed — has not gone down well in Odisha’s academic circles. Dominant opinion in the academy is that UGC’s regulations for recruitment of faculty in higher education institutions are well-established and safeguard against favouritism and nepotism.
“Most members of OPSC are political appointees and supporters of the ruling party. OPSC’s role is to test and select candidates for administrative positions in government. Their members are not competent to test, interview and appoint university VCs, professors and faculty. This is a prescription for inducting party favourites and under-qualified candidates as university faculty. At a time when the new National Education Policy 2020 mandates thorough reform and upgradation of higher education, the BJD government’s initiative to delegate the task of selection and appointment of higher education intellectuals to OPSC is totally regressive,” says the vice chancellor of a top-ranked private university, who requested anonymity.
Moreover, while deploring the state government’s “recklessness and short-sightedness” for assigning the task of filling higher education vacancies to OPSC, academics in Bhubaneswar appreciate Prof. Mohanty’s initiative in getting a stay order from the Supreme Court. “There is considerable confusion and ambiguity about the jurisdiction of the Centre and states over universities since education was placed in the concurrent list of the Constitution in 1976. Now that the matter is in the Supreme Court, one hopes the boundary lines will be drawn,” says the VC quoted earlier.
It’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.
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