The Visva-Bharati University (VBU) has been ordered by a court to pay Rs 1,00,000 in reparation to an employee, Professor Debotosh Sinha. Sinha was removed from headship for approving the Child-Care Leave of a female colleague while he was serving as the acting Head of the Department (HOD) of Social Work.
However, Sinha claimed that he had only recommended the leave, which was later sanctioned by the administration. He also alleged that the Principal, who forwarded the leave, was not issued any show-cause notice. In its ruling, the court stated that “…the plain reading of the charge sheet does not disclose any omission or commission of the petitioner which can be perceived as misconduct by a man of normal prudence”.
On the other hand, the students at the University and the Student Federation of India (SFI) have been holding protests on campus, calling for the revocation of the suspension of students and the dismissal of senior Professor Sudipta Bhattacharyya, who is also the president of the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA). On January 4, the university released a press statement demanding an apology from the suspended students.
The statement says, “…the University has decided to give the students involved in these misdeeds an opportunity to resume their studies, provided that they tender an unconditional apology for the violence and disrespect for Visva Bharati that they have shown since 23 November 2022.”
Why was the institute fined by the court again?
On November 2, 2021, Professor Debotosh Sinha recommended Child Care Leaves for Professor Sudeshna Saha, which were subsequently approved by the Deputy Registrar of the University. One year later, on November 29, 2022, Professor Sinha received a show-cause notice regarding the Child Care Leave application. The notice, which requested an explanation, stated that Professor Sinha’s actions were prejudicial to the interests of the university and may be considered misconduct.
In his explanation, Prof Sinha reminded the university that he was not the “Leave Sanctioning Authority,” but rather the one who had recommended the leave, which was later approved by the university administration. He also stated that during this time, Professor Sudeshna Saha, a female faculty member, had submitted a leave application to him for Child Care Leave to care for her newborn twins, and on humanitarian grounds, he had forwarded the application.
He wrote, “During this tenure, Dr. Sudeshna Saha, a female faculty member submitted a leave application to me for Child Care Leave to look after her new born twin babies who need maximum care. On humanitarian grounds, I have forwarded her leave application….” Prof Sinha had also written an apology letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the university on November 25, 2022, admitting his mistake.
The court ruled that the disciplinary proceedings should be terminated immediately due to the lack of misconduct disclosed in the charge sheet. The court also stated that an employee should not be subjected to the stress of a disciplinary proceeding and the charge sheet is malicious, harassing, and does not reveal any misconduct. Additionally, the court mentioned that the professor’s apology letter seemed to have been forced or “overpowered” by the university, rather than being a voluntary letter written by the petitioner after a year had passed.
“The letter read with show-cause notice dated November 29, 2022, clearly suggests that the University proceeded with an ulterior motive against the petitioner and prevailed on him to write the letter only to make a ground for the initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him. Such a vindictive attitude of the University cannot be approved by this Court and should be deprecated by awarding appropriate costs,” states the order. The University has to pay a fine of Rs 1,00,000 to Prof Sinha within 30 days.
Curtailing of academic openness?
VBU, founded by Rabindranath Tagore with the principles of academic openness, including an open campus and openness in thought and expression, is currently facing multiple legal cases involving its employees and students. Six suspended students, along with Professor Sudipta Bhattacharyya, have already taken their actions to the Calcutta High Court. The hearing for their case is scheduled for next week. Pratyush Bhattacharya, one of the suspended students, stated, “No student will sign the unconditional apology that the institute has demanded. We are aware of the tricks the administration plays to lay a trap for its employees and students.” On the Debotosh Sinha case, suspended Prof Bhattacharyya informs, “Sinha was VC’s man, and even he was not spared from his wrath. I think now he realises the things we have been at the receiving end of.”
Advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who has been representing the employees and students of VBU, stated that the VC is attempting to introduce his own political agenda into the university’s administration. He said, “The VC is trying to bring in his narrow politics into the administration of the University. He has an antagonistic relationship with everyone; even those who support him are in fear of him. This is nothing but BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) deliberate attempt to destroy the openness that VBU stands for and make it monolithic.”
In the past, most court orders have been against the university, with the administration being repeatedly criticised for its actions. Despite facing over 100 legal cases and paying lakhs of rupees in fines, the administration continues to engage in conflicts with its employees and students.
Courtesy : Edex