Court grants till March 15 for govt. to file counter to petition filed by M.K. Surappa
The Madras High Court on Saturday directed the State government to not take any decision till April 5 on an inquiry report, if any, filed by a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) constituted against Anna University Vice-Chancellor M.K. Surappa. The objective of the CoI is to probe charges of bribery, corruption, malpractice, financial irregularities, irregular appointments and so on.
Justice S. Vaidyanathan passed the interim order after Advocate General Vijay Narayan sought time till March 15 to file a detailed counter affidavit to a writ petition filed by Mr. Surappa, challenging a November 2020 Government Order for constitution of the CoI under retired High Court judge P. Kalaiyarasan. The AG too assured that no final decision shall be taken till then.
Though petitioner’s counsel insisted on staying the inquiry or to pass an order of status quo, the A-G said the government had no role to play at this stage since the inquiry had already commenced. He said the State was perfectly justified in constituting the commission since there had been instances of former Vice-Chancellors having been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.
Sating that complaints against Mr. Surappa were only being inquired into, he said the final decision on the inquiry report would be taken only by the Chancellor. On the other hand, Additional Solicitor General R. Sankaranarayanan said the confrontation between the Vice-Chancellor and the State government was unfortunate and that it must be resolved amicably.
In his affidavit, Mr. Surappa denied all charges levelled against him and said that he hailed from an agrarian family with his father being a sharecropper in Mirle village of Mysore district in Karnataka. “I have transitioned from cattle grazing to Cambridge University by sheer dint of hard work, honesty and sincerity,” the affidavit read. Claiming to have to spearheaded major development works in the University ever since he assumed office in April 2018, He claimed that his opposition to the State government’s decision to pass all engineering students without conducting arrear examinations due to COVID-19 and the efforts taken by him to obtain the Institute of Eminence (IoE) status for the university triggered a confrontation.
The petitioner said that he had begun taking steps for obtaining IoE status in June 2020 because it would bring to Anna University a grant of ₹1,000 crore, as against the present annual grant of ₹40 crore, over a period of five years and that money could be spent on research. The status would also give more autonomy to the varsity and the freedom to determine fees, course structure and governance.
Such IoE status could be obtained with a pre-condition that the university would continue to follow the State’s 69% reservation policy in admissions and not the Centre’s 49.5% reservation policy. Nevertheless, the move triggered a huge political row since reservation was an important subject of electoral politics and also because the government did not want its control over the university to be marginalised in any way, he said.
Mr. Surappa stated that he refused to part with university funds for purchasing decorative items at the offices of the Higher Education Minister and the Secretary. He also took back four university cars used by the Minister and the Secretary. “When all these issues have been corrected upon me as Vice-Chancellor, I have drawn the ire of the ruling dispensation,” he claimed.
The first complaint against him was lodged in the name of one A. Suresh, from Adikudy village, in Lalgudi taluk, of Tiruchi district, on February 21, 2020, he said the complaint was forwarded to the university from the Prime Minister’s grievance cell and it was responded to promptly. However, the State government sat on it for 262 days and forwarded it to the university only on October 13, 2020.
After replying to the State government, the university found that the complaint had been made under a fictitious name and address. Hence, it lodged a police complaint to trace the real complainant. In the meantime, the CoI began holding a roving inquiry without going into any specifics. Several documents were summoned, and the university was coerced to depose against him, the petitioner alleged.
Even his former domestic help was not spared. She was summoned to the inquiry to find out if she had accompanied his family on a foreign trip though the woman does not even hold a passport. “I owed an apology to the maid and gave it but the trauma and anguish undergone by her can be imagined. This singular instance is testimony to the intent of the State” to fix him, he said and sought an interim stay.