Kerala HC Revokes Stay on Appointment of CM Aide’s Wife at Kannur University by Chancellor

Kerala HC Revokes Stay on Appointment of CM Aide’s Wife at Kannur University by Chancellor

Priya Varghese, the wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's personal secretary, welcomed the verdict and said ever since the issue cropped up and till the judgement was delivered, she had suffered a lot of victimisation.

PTIUpdated: Friday, June 23, 2023, 06:33 PM IST
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Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan | File Photo

Kochi: Amid a row about a "political" appointment at Kannur University, the Kerala High Court on Thursday ruled that Priya Varghese, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's private secretary, has the relevant experience for the post of Malayalam Associate Professor in the varsity and her candidature for that position be considered accordingly.
The ruling by a bench of Justices A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Mohammed Nias C P came on Varghese's appeal challenging a single-judge order of the court of November last year that she lacked the relevant period of actual teaching experience as stipulated under the University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations of 2018 for the post.
Varghese welcomed the verdict and said ever since the issue cropped up and till the judgement was delivered, she had suffered a lot of victimisation.
"I would term it as a hunt. There was a lot of sadness in my life as a result. I am now happy with the verdict. I have got justice," she told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
Varghese also claimed that even on the eve of her date of interview she was "targeted".
Referring to the division bench decision, she said it gives rise to questions on what should be considered as teaching and why posts like Director of Student Services (DSS) or NSS coordinator would not be considered as part of it.
"These points need to be debated and discussed by everyone," she added.
Meanwhile, Kannur University Vice Chancellor Gopinath Ravindran said the varsity will take a decision according to the directions contained in the judgement.
"I have not read the judgement. Once I go through it, a decision will be taken accordingly," he told reporters in Kannur.
Allowing the appeal of Varghese, the division bench set aside the single judge decision of November 17, 2022 and held that the time spent by her on research under the Faculty Development Programme of the Kannur University is entitled to be reckoned towards the research experience stipulated for the post.
The court said that merely on account of having pursued a research degree simultaneous with her teaching assignment, the research period will not be excluded from being counted as experience.
The bench said that the prohibition under the UGC Regulations against inclusion of the time taken for acquiring a PhD degree in the computation of teaching/research experience only applied to 'candidates' -- those who were not working as a teacher in any institution at the time of applying for the post in question.
The single judge had held that time spent by Varghese on research under the Faculty Development Programme of the Kannur University cannot be counted towards research experience required for the post.
The single judge had also held that Varghese's stint as NSS Coordinator or Director of Student Services (DSS) in Kannur university cannot be counted towards teaching experience.
Disagreeing with this view, the bench said that the period spent by her as NSS Coordinator or Director of Student Services (DSS) in the Kannur university was entitled to be reckoned towards teaching experience.
"Merely because the post of Director of Student Services/Programme Coordinator of NSS is classified as a non-teaching post in the recruitment rules of the University, it does not follow that the incumbent in the post does not gain 'teaching experience' in the broader sense of the term." the bench said.
It also agreed with the state government stand that a finding that the time spent in these posts would not count as teaching experience "would have disastrous consequences for the academic community in the state" as no teacher would go on deputation to such positions for fear of losing out on career progression.
"We have to also remind ourselves, yet again, that when the University, which is an academic body, has chosen to treat the said experience of the teacher as 'teaching experience', then this court must defer to the wisdom of the academic body and refrain from interfering with the said decision unless it is shown to be clearly opposed to the statutory provisions in vogue." the bench said.
It also held that her spell of eight months and 24 days spent as Lecturer at the Teacher Education Centre at Kannur University on ad hoc/contract basis after attaining the NET qualification is also entitled to be reckoned towards teaching experience for the post in question.
The division bench verdict would come as a relief to Varghese whose proposed appointment had triggered a huge political row as she had the lowest research score but the highest in the interview round and was declared first in the selection process.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, in his capacity as Chancellor of universities in the state, had last year stayed her appointment and alleged that Kannur University's move to appoint her was "political".
"The process of the appointment...it appears to be a case of favouritism and nepotism. A person who is not qualified to be appointed as an assistant professor prima facie is being appointed because she is the spouse of the secretary to the chief minister. This is political. There is absolutely no doubt," Khan had said.

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