Administrative storm brewing at NUSRL Ranchi as VC remains in a state of limbo

Varun Chirumamilla February 2 2018
NUSRL

All is not well at National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi (NUSRL), according to highly placed internal sources. And things have not been so, for quite a while now.

Vice-Chancellor in-charge, Gautam Chaudhary has been at the helm for over nine months now, and the official VC, Prof BC Nirmal, has not been allowed to enter the campus after returning in June from a month’s leave. Allegations of flagrant violations of the law in the appointment of permanent faculty abound, and the University’s coffers are deep in the red.

A Tale of two Vice-Chancellors

“All I want is an opportunity to end this humiliation and make a swift and graceful exit.”

These are the words of Prof Nirmal, who is still officially the VC at NUSRL. A wave of student protests against the administration led to his going on leave for a month in May 2017. This  move, he says, was suggested to him by the then Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court Justice Pradip Kumar Mohanty, to allow normalcy to be restored to campus.

The Professor alleges that the protests were orchestrated by two faculty members, namely Dr K Shyamala, who was appointed Associate Professor of Law this month, and Dr MRS Murthy, who is currently the Registrar in-charge.

It is interesting to note that the University had no permanent employees until January 17, 2018, and all teaching and non-teaching staff functioned on a contract basis. According to Prof Nirmal, Shyamala and Murthy were rewarded with permanent positions for the role they played in organizing these protests and keeping the VC from returning to office after his return from leave.

In response, Dr Murthy told Bar & Bench that these allegations had not been made at the time of the protests and were only surfacing now.

"This in itself tells a story", he added.

He also said that he had been present along with a lot of others during the protests, and that he did not wish to add anything further or rake up any fresh controversy. He added that he respected the VC as a fellow Professor.

Internal sources confirmed that the Prof Nirmal arrived to a hostile reception on his return from leave, with around one hundred students, in the company of some staff, obstructing the path to his office.

“Why he did not take any action is anybody’s guess, but he is a mild mannered academician who probably wanted to avoid confrontation," said a source.

The same source also added that Professor Nirmal was not without his faults as an administrator.

When asked why he had not tendered his resignation given that he wanted a speedy resolution to the issue, Prof Nirmal said that he would not do so until he had been given the nod to do so.

Dr. BC Nirmal, Vice-Chancellor, NUSRL Ranchi

Prof BC Nirmal

"If I submit my resignation, and it is not accepted, I would have exhausted my final remedy. I have sought an appointment to meet with the Chief Justice [of the High Court] several times, but have not been granted a date."

The Professor also said that he had consulted his lawyer on the legal remedies available to him. He said,

“The High Court works with the University on the administrative side. Of course, the judicial side is separate; but judges are judges. They belong to the same institution, and I cannot say that I will get justice. They may be kind enough to grant me justice, or maybe not. Maybe I can then approach the Supreme Court. But for what?”

Prof Nirmal also told Bar & Bench that he had not been paid for the last nine months, and that his quarters, official car, driver and cook’s services had been withdrawn, and that he had not received any communication notifying him of the reasons for the same.

Allegations against Professor Nirmal

Professor Nirmal is faced with allegations of inaction and being responsible for protests that paralysed the functioning of the University in early 2017. He has also been asked to show cause as to why action should not be taken against him, pertaining to the appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff.

He responded to these allegations by stating that the Recruitment Committee had vindicated his stand on the appointment of teaching staff by regularising all those he had appointed as Teaching Assistants. He added that he had followed established procedure in all appointments made by him.

Allegations of wrongdoing by the University

Internal sources at NUSRL told Bar & Bench that the reason for keeping Prof Nirmal at bay was to orchestrate a recruitment scam. It was revealed that the Executive Committee of the University met shortly after Professor Nirmal took a month’s leave on the advice of the High Court, and passed two important resolutions. One was to change the age of superannuation of the Vice-Chancellor from 70 years to 65 years, and the other was to advertise for permanent faculty members.

Further, the appointment of the VC in-charge did little in the way of improving things at NUSRL, with protests similar to the one leading to Prof Nirmal going on leave being rekindled three months into Chaudhary's tenure, for the same reasons. As opposed to hearing the students' grievances, the administration chose to deal with the protests with a rather heavy hand by deploying law enforcement agencies on campus.

NUSRL

Security forces deployed on the NUSRL campus in September last year

Prof Nirmal also questioned the appointment of an in-charge Vice-Chancellor for an indefinite period.

"In-charge in itself implies that the arrangement is stop gap. I was to resume office after a month’s time. I wonder what the rationale behind appointing an in-charge VC without a stipulated term was."

He also said that when someone was "in-charge", it was understood that she would not take any important policy decisions, and that Chaudhary's presiding over recruitments defied logic.

Another source revealed that the process of evaluating applicants had been completed in the first week of December 2017 and that the results were announced on January 17 this year. There were two Executive Council meetings in the intervening period, and no internal faculty were allowed to attend these meetings, adding to an atmosphere of opacity.

Prof Nirmal also said that the very constitution of the Selection Committee in charge of recruitments was violative of the NUSRL Act, which stipulates that the same must be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor.

Section 9 of the Executive Council Statute provides that the Selection Committee must be chaired by the Vice-Chancellor

The University’s Response

Prof MSR Murthy, who is the acting Registrar at NUSRL, replied briefly to all the allegations made. He said that all recruitments were made in accordance with the law, and all the information was openly available on the University website for public scrutiny. He also added that a media report on the allegations was imminent, and the same would perhaps put all the issues mentioned in the spotlight.

With regard to specific allegations that some internal faculty having benefited from irregular interview marking, he said that it would be inappropriate to comment since he had been benefited from the process.

"If I say anything, people will assume I am saying it because I have been a beneficiary of the process, just as they would assume the same about those making allegations, because they did not make the cut", said Murthy.

What lies ahead

Conflict and unrest are certainly not new phenomena at NUSRL. Bar & Bench had reported extensively on various protests carried out by students that had brought the University to a standstill. Apart from better infrastructure and facilities, a common demand featuring in all the protests has been for a competent and more transparent administration.

Despite having one of the highest fee structures among the National Law Universities, NUSRL has faced financial trouble ever since its inception. Prof Nirmal, who is currently in the eye of the storm, claims to have worked closely with the state authorities to bring more funding to the University. As he has done before, he lamented the institution's current financial situation, saying that NUSRL still owed Rs 45 crore to various lenders.

"Development cannot happen without money," he added.

While Nirmal may want to put the entire episode behind him and sail quietly into the sunset, others have radically different ideas. Sources who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity said that they would go public with sordid details of ongoing wrongdoing at the University in due course.

Fresh strife may not be too far away for an institution that claims to be one among the best institutions for legal education in the country.