IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT MADRAS DATED: 19.10.2006 CORAM: THE HONOURABLE MR.JUSTICE M.THANIKACHALAM WRIT PETITION No.33288 OF 2005, W.P.M.P.No.36254 OF 2005 AND W.V.M.P.No.2437 OF 2005 T.Vasantha Kumaran ... Petitioner Vs. 1.University of Madras, Chepauk, Chennai-600005, rep.by the Registrar 2.Dr.Sivagnanam ... Respondents * * * Writ Petition filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, praying to issue a Writ of Certiorari calling for the records relating to the impugned proceedings of the 1st respondent in Communication No.VC./REGR/CC(P) AS01/2005/82, dated 12.5.2005, Communication No.VC/REGR/CC(P)/ASO1/2005/113, dated 13.6.2005, Communication No.VC/REGR/CC(P)/ASO1/2005/131, dated 22.7.2005 and Communication No.VC/REGR/CC(P)/ASO1/2005/159, dated 13.9.2005 and quash the same. * * * For petitioner : Mr.V.Selvaraj For respondents : Mr.P.S.Raman, Addl.Advocate General for M/s.Kandavadivelu Doraisamy * * * O R D E R
With the consent of either counsel, the main writ petition itself is taken up for final hearing.
2. The petitioner is working as Professor in the Department of Geography from 1.1.1993, appointed by the Syndicate of the University. The first respondent, by its communication dated 12.5.2005, accused the petitioner, as if he involved in unlawful acts, attracting disciplinary action, directing him to submit the explanation within seven days. Thereafter, the Registrar of the first respondent University also sent a letter dated 13.6.2005, requesting the petitioner to offer his remarks, for which the writ petitioner sent a reply, that the allegations are false and malicious, further requesting copies of the documents, on the basis of which the second respondent made wild allegations against the petitioner. Once again on 13.9.2005, the first respondent sent a communication stating that the second respondent has offered his remarks, that the thesis referred to were public documents and were available in Madras University and Bharathidasan University and therefore, the request to supply copies of documents amounts to mischievousness, even leading to disobedience.
3. The petitioner has been appointed only by Syndicate as Lecturer and gave promotion as Reader and Professor and in this view, the Syndicate of Madras University alone is competent to initiate action against the University Professors and Lecturers and the Registrar (in-charge) has no right or authority to frame any charge or even call for any explanation. Hence, the notices issued by the first respondent are without any authority and are liable to be quashed.
4. In the writ petition, by filing W.P.M.P.No.36254 of 2005, the petitioner obtained an order of stay, which is sought to be vacated, by the respondents, by filing a petition, wherein a counter is also filed.
5. In the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the first respondent/Registrar of the University of Madras, it is stated that the petitioner has been recycling various reports submitted to various funding agencies, as well as in Ph.D. Thesis, which is to be termed as an act of plagiarism of the highest order; that on 8.5.2005, the Vice Chancellor called for the remarks of the petitioner and pursuant to the same, a communication was sent on 12.5.2005, calling for the explanation of the petitioner, regarding the allegations of plagiarism; that as per the procedure adopted by the University, an explanation was called for before initiating any further action and that in view of the same, the Registrar (in-charge) signed in the communication By Order; that University took only first steps to call for the explanation on the allegations of plagiarism; that the Vice-Chancellor, as the principal executive officer of the University of Madras, has every right to call for explanation from the petitioner and if any case is made out, prima facie, placing the issue before the Syndicate for initiating disciplinary action; that the move of the petitioner, to quash the communications, is premature and that it is the duty of the University administration to take such administrative steps to verify the allegations or else it would give a wrong signal to the academic community that such allegations are unquestionable and would be allowed to go unnoticeable and in this view, the writ petition is devoid of merits and therefore, the same is liable to be dismissed, vacating the stay also.
6. In the reply affidavit, the petitioner reiterating the averments in the affidavit already filed, would further submit that except the Syndicate of the University, no other Authority has any power to require the petitioner to answer any allegation, praying for allowing the writ petition.
7. Heard Mr.V.Selvaraj, the learned counsel for the petitioner and Mr.P.S.Raman, the learned Additional Advocate General for the respondents.
8. In the Department of Geography, University of Madras, wherein the second respondent is working as Professor and Head of the Department, the writ petitioner is working as Professor, at present. The second respondent, being the Professor and Head of the Department of Geography as well as being the Member of the Syndicate also, brought to the notice of the first respondent, that the Project Report titled “Sustainable Bio-Diversity and Food Security through Indigenous Knowledge in the Kollihills, Tami Nadu, India” submitted by the writ petitioner to the UGC in July 2004, is the plagiarized version found in the Ph.D. thesis titled “Agricultural Development and Food Security in the Kollihills, Tamil Nadu, South India” submitted in October 2003 by Thiru V.Ranganathan, Lecturer (SG) in Economics, S.S.Government Arts College, Tiruttani.
9. On the above said basis, on 12.5.2005, an Official Communication was sent to the writ petitioner, directing him to submit his explanation for the said allegations, failing which to take appropriate disciplinary action, based on the available records and materials on the merit of the case. For this official communication, on 19.5.2005, an explanation was submitted by the writ petitioner, questioning the allegations of plagiarism against him. The first respondent, by going through the explanation of the writ petitioner, dated 19.5.2005, felt, the writ petitioner has failed to answer for the questions raised. Therefore, once again, the writ petitioner was directed to submit his remarks with regard to the observations made by the Head of Department of Geography, informing further that if no relevant answers were submitted, appropriate disciplinary proceedings would be initiated against him. For this communication, the writ petitioner sent a reply dated 20.6.2005, as well as another reply on the same day, seeking permission to take legal action against persons who are spreading canards, character assassination and causing mental harassment to him.
10. By going through the above communications, the first respondent once again felt, explanation is not satisfactory and called for further explanation, on the allegations of plagiarism against the petitioner. Immediately, on completion of the exercise of referring certain documents, a reply has been sent by the petitioner on 8.8.2005, requesting the first respondent to give copies of certain documents. Once again, an official communication emanated from the first respondent dated 13.9.2005, directing the writ petitioner to submit his explanation.
11. In view of the unending war by communications, the writ petitioner filed this writ petition, questioning the authority of the first respondent to issue such communications calling for explanation, leading to departmental proceedings, on the grounds that the first respondent has no authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him and if at all, disciplinary action could be initiated against him only by the Syndicate of the University of Madras and in this view, the communications issued, as said above, being without power or competency, are liable to be quashed, which is opposed on the grounds that the Vice Chancellor of the University, being the head of the executive, is competent to issue official memorandum, calling for explanation, before initiating disciplinary proceedings, in order to find out a prima facie case for submitting papers to the Syndicate, for the purpose of initiating disciplinary proceedings and in this view alone, the communications were sent to the writ petitioner, which are prematurely questioned and in this view, the writ petition is not maintainable.
12. Mr.V.Selvaraj, the learned counsel appearing for the writ petitioner would submit that the writ petitioner, being the Professor, no disciplinary action could be initiated against him by the first respondent, represented by the Registrar or the Vice-Chancellor as the case may be and if at all, the disciplinary action could be initiated only by the appointing authority viz. the Syndicate of the University and in this view, the notices or the Official Memoranda issued by the first respondent, without any authority should be quashed.
13. Responding to the above submission, the learned Additional Advocate General would submit that all the notices issued by the first respondent are not for initiating directly any disciplinary proceedings against the petitioner and only preliminary steps are taken, to ascertain the correctness or genuineness of the allegations alleged against the petitioner by the second respondent and if at all any disciplinary action is to be taken, not satisfied with the explanations submitted by the writ petitioner, it would be done only by the Syndicate and in this view, the writ petition is premature. It is the further submission of the learned Additional Advocate General that the Vice Chancellor, as the Executive head of the University, is competent to issue the official memo. which cannot be challenged.
14. After hearing the submissions of either counsel at length and by going through the provisions available in the Madras University Act, 1923 (hereinafter called as the Act) as well as the power of the Syndicate also, I am unable to agree with the submissions made by the learned Additional Advocate General, whereas, considering the status of the petitioner, his appointment, it is to be held that the Authority, who can initiate even the disciplinary proceeding against a Professor of the University, must be only the Syndicate of the University and not the Vice Chancellor. Now, across the Bar, the learned Additional Advocate General conceded that the impugned notices were not issued by the first respondent on the strength of any delegation of power given to the Vice-Chancellor by the Syndicate, whereas the notices were issued by the Vice Chancellor, only as the executive head of the University. It is also conceded by the learned Additional Advocate General that only the Syndicate has the power to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the teaching staff of the University or by the person to whom the delegation of power was given by the Syndicate.
15. Under Section 19 of the Madras University Act, 1923, (in Chapter IV dealing with The Syndicate”) the Syndicate alone shall have the power to appoint the University Professor, defining their duties and conditions of their service etc. Similarly, the Syndicate alone is competent to suspend and dismiss the University Professors, Readers etc., not disputed, which is enunciated in Chapter IX (Statutes and Ordinances) of Laws of the University.
16. Even in the Syndicate Meeting dated 22.10.1999, as Agenda No.31, the University has submitted before the Syndicate, for its consideration, the delegation of powers to the Vice-Chancellor to conduct enquiry by himself or through a Committee constituted by him in relation to the delegation of powers already granted to him by the syndicate on 17.2.1979, wherein it was specifically stated that:
“As far as the University is concerned, the Syndicate is the disciplinary authority for taking action against the employee of the University, as per Statute 12(h) under Chapter XII, Volume-I of the University Calendar which reads as follows:
“to suspend and dismiss the University Professors, Readers and Lecturers and the Teachers and servants of the University.”
17. Previously for the non-teaching staff, the Vice Chancellor was granted power to constitute a Committee, to conduct enquiry, as part of the disciplinary proceedings and the same kind of power was delegated as per the proceedings dated 22.10.1999, which was accepted by this Court in the judgment dated 28.3.2006 rendered in Writ Appeal No.3642 of 2002. The delegation of power is not in question before me. As pointed out, it is not the case of the respondents also that the impugned communications were sent by the Vice-Chancellor or as per the orders of the Vice-Chancellor, by the Committee constituted, to initiate disciplinary proceedings. Therefore, in this case, we need not go into detail about the delegation of power to the Vice Chancellor to conduct enquiry, in relation to the disciplinary proceedings against the teaching staff by himself or through the Committee constituted by him.
18. It cannot be disputed that the Vice Chancellor shall be the principal executive officer of the University, as contemplated under Section 12 of the Act (in Chapter II, dealing with The University). Section 12(5) says:
“The Vice-Chancellor shall give effect to the orders of the Syndicate regarding the appointment, dismissal and suspension of the teachers of the University and its serants and shall exercise general control over the affairs of the University.”
Thus, it is clear that the Vice Chancellor shall carry out the orders of Syndicate, in addition to having power of general control over the affairs of the University and certainly, not to initiate any disciplinary proceedings, though the allegations levelled against the writ petitioner appear to be serious in nature, affecting the academic community also. The impugned official communications issued by the Vice Chancellor, in my considered opinion, certainly, would not come within the exercise of general control over the affairs of the University, when there is a specific provision, as indicated above, to take disciplinary action against the teaching staff by the Syndicate or by the person upon whom the power is delegated by the Syndicate. It is also not the case, the impugned notices were issued as per the power delegated to the Vice Chancellor of Madras University by the Syndicate.
19. The submission of the learned Additional Advocate General, that all the impugned notices were issued contemplating only preliminary enquiry as a fact finding one, appears to be not correct from the wordings available therein. In all the communications, referred to above, dated 12.5.2005, 13.6.2005, 22.7.2005 and 13.9.2005, it is specifically stated that the writ petitioner should submit his explanation and if there is no proper explanation to submit, appropriate disciplinary action would be initiated against the writ petitioner, based on the available records etc., thereby indicating, positively, that the impugned communications by themselves are the show-causes notices prior to disciplinary proceedings. Therefore, the submission of the learned Additional Advocate General, that the impugned communications are intended to avoid unnecessary disciplinary proceedings or to screen the unnecessary allegations, appears to be not well founded.
20. As per the Act, the disciplinary authority even to initiate action, issuing show cause notice, must be only the Syndicate or the person on whom the delegation of powers are vested by the Syndicate. In this case, it is not the case that the Registrar (in-charge) was vested with the power, based upon the delegation of the power of the Vice Chancellor of the first respondent. In this view of the matter, I am of the considered opinion, that all the impugned notices were issued, aiming a disciplinary action, simpliciter, directly against the petitioner and therefore, it should be held, that the impugned notices were issued without the authority and this being the position, as rightly submitted by the learned counsel for the petitioner, all the impugned notices are liable to be quashed.
21. In the light of the above discussion, since the impugned official communications were issued without the power of authority, I am constrained to quash all the notices in (1) Communication No.VC./REGR/CC(P) AS01/2005/82, dated 12.5.2005, (2) Communication No.VC/REGR/CC(P)/ASO1/2005/113, dated 13.6.2005, (3) Communication No.VC/REGR/CC(P)/ASO1/2005/131, dated 22.7.2005 and (4) Communication No.VC/REGR/CC(P)/ASO1/2005/159, dated 13.9.2005, allowing the writ petition.
It is made clear that quashing these notices will not amount to relieving the petitioner from the allegations levelled against him and it is open to the authorities concerned, if they desire, to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the petitioner as per the rules and regulations according to law. Accordingly, this writ petition is allowed. No costs.
Consequently, W.P.M.P.No.36254 of 2005 and W.V.M.P.No.2437 of 2005 are closed.
University of Madras,