CNLU students protest imminent appointment of Prof Ishwara Bhat as VC

Days after it came to light that Prof Ishwara Bhat, Vice-Chancellor of West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS) was in line to take over at Chanakya National Law University (CNLU) Patna, students at the latter law school have decided to protest the move.

The opposition to Prof Bhat’s appointment as CNLU VC stems from the discontent expressed by students of NUJS regarding the administration of the University during his six-year stint as Vice-Chancellor. In a letter addressed to Governor of Bihar Satya Pal Malik, CNLU students state,

“Prof. Bhat’s style of administering affairs at NUJS including problems under the heads such as corruption, arbitrariness in appointment of Faculty, his inaction against the allegations of sexual harassment, financial embezzlement, transparency, academics, infrastructure, health and hygiene, curbing student liberties out of retribution, mismanagement of University Funds.”

In light of the fact that the Student Juridical Association at NUJS had passed two “no-confidence” petitions against him over the last six years, the CNLU students are demanding the cancellation of Prof Bhat’s appointment as VC.

For the time being, the students have been assured that the appointment will not go through, pending the decision of the Review Commission constituted to look into allegations of maladministration at NUJS during Prof Bhat’s tenure.

The Commission, constituted amid growing calls for transparency at the University last year, was given the green signal by former Chief Justice of India TS Thakur. It comprises Prof Mohan Gopal, Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies in Delhi, Prof Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR Hyderabad, and Prof Lalit Magotra, former Dean at the University of Jammu.

This Commission will look into allegations of arbitrariness in the appointment of faculty, sexual harassment raised by an employee of NUJS, and corruption with regard to an illegal contract.

Current Vice-Chancellor Prof A Lakshminath, whose term expires today, has also borne the brunt of the students’ ire. Alleging that “gross mismanagement” took place during his tenure as VC, the students are demanding that Prof Lakshminath not be allowed to continue as VC or to hold any other post at the University. The letter states,

“We are highly aggrieved with various issues of concern under his administration since the inception of the university including lack of transparency in allocation of funds, absence of permanent faculty and academic initiatives, no infrastructural development, no accountability and transparency in administrative procedures, absence of administrative support for organising cultural and academic events among others.”

Addressing the protesting students, Prof Lakshminath said,

“Till the charges are cleared, he [Prof Bhat] will not come to the campus. An interim arrangement will be made until a new Vice-Chancellor is appointed.”

In a bid to ensure that their demands are met, CNLU students are currently undertaking a dharna on the University campus.

The protest at CNLU is another symptom of what appears to be a growing epidemic in India’s national law universities, touted to be premier institutions of legal education. Last year, students at two other NLUs – Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University (RMLNLU) Lucknow and National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL) Ranchi – had called for an overhaul of their respective administrations, in light of allegations of mismanagement and corruption.