SIKKIM STATE HUMAN RIGHT COMMISSION COMES DOWN STRONG ON SIKKIM UNIVERSITY AND VC OVER ILLEGAL TERMINATION OF TEACHERS
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION RECOMMENDS CANCELLATION OF TERMINATION ORDERS AND CLEARANCE OF ‘ILLEGALLY WITHHELD’ SALARIES; WANTS PROF. LAMA TO PAY COMPENSATION FROM HIS OWN POCKET
GANGTOK, 27 Sept: Two former Assistant Professors with the Sikkim University who were hounded for having protested what they saw as unfair practises, a stand which isolated them and then brought the stigma of getting terminated from service 15 days before their contract ran out, were served sweet justice by the Sikkim State Human Rights Commission today. In its order issued today, the Commission has not only recommended that the SU Executive Council’s decision to terminate their services be “forthwith cancelled”, but also identified Vice Chancellor Prof Mahendra P Lama as being the “string-puller” of the entire illegality and recommended that he “personally” pay out compensation awarded by the Commission to the affected teachers.
The case relates to the complaint filed with the State Human Rights Commission by Rajendra Prasad, Manoranjan Mishra, Shailendra Kumar Mishra and Tapas Bain challenging the decision of the Executive Council of Sikkim University to terminate the services of Mr. Prasad and Mr. Mishra and the continuing refusal of the University authorities to clear their salaries or issue them experience certificates. The terminated duo were removed from service on 16 March 2012 on the recommendation of the Executive Council [made the same day in Delhi] on the grounds of misconduct while the contracts of Mr. Mishra and Mr. Bain had already run on 27 February 2012.
In a strongly worded, 24-page order released today, Justice AN Ray, Chairperson, Sikkim State Human Rights Commission, has recommended that “Sikkim University, its Executive Council and all concerned office bearers, employees and staff do forthwith cancel the proceedings and decisions of Executive Council dated 16/3/2012, New Delhi as it is a product of illegal initiation of proceedings and was reached in breach of rules of natural justice”.
The Executive Council’s pusillanimity in allowing the VC to settle scores established, the set of recommendations goes on to direct that the SU forthwith release the “illegally withheld” salaries of the four petitioners. The University, citing various reasons, all of which have been dismissed by the Commission as untenable, had withheld the final salary dues of the four complainants.
These dues work out to Rs. 75,400 for Mr. Prasad [for Feb and March], Rs. 77,268 for Mr. Mishra [Feb and March], Rs. 36,252 for Mr. Shailendra Mishra [Feb 2012] and Rs. 35,552 for Mr. Bain [Feb 2012].
Earlier in the order, Justice Ray also observes: “There is absolutely nothing which prevents the University from paying the improperly withheld salaries. Any delay in this matter will be a downright matter of shame”.
The Commission has also recommended that the University immediately issue Experience Certificates to all four Assistant Professors.
The order then moves to the Commission’s recommendations on compensation. “Mahendra P Lama do personally pay out of his own funds compensation for illegal actions initiated and persisted in by him to the prejudice and loss of the petitioners to the extent of Rs. 2,44,000 in the following breakup: a) Rs. 1,20,000 forthwith to Rajendra Prasad; b) Rs. 1,20,000 forthwith to Manoranjan Mishra; c) Rs. 2,000 forthwith to Shailendra Mishra; d) Rs. 2,000 forthwith to Tapas Bain,” the order records.
While explaining the compensation angle, Justice Ray observes: “Withheld salary is not compensation but satisfaction of a debt that the University should discharge from its own resources immediately.”
Its decision to recommend that Prof Lama pay out the compensation from “his own funds” is drawn from the Commission’s “power to recommend payment of compensation by any person in authority at the material time”.
When it comes to the present case, the Commission underlines: “For example, it is found that the whole game was played by Lama and the rest of the University was led by him in this matter...”
The recommendation for compensation made, the Commission has further recommended that “as security for due payment by Mahendra P Lama, the Sikkim University its Executive Council and all it office bearers and employees do withhold from the current and future dues, if any, of Mahendra P Lama from the University a sum of Rs. 2,44,000/- and that they do make the payments as recommended in item IV above to the persons mentioned unless Lama makes full and complete payment by 15/11/2012”.
The order offers the complainants some sense of closure on the stigma attached to them because of the now established illegal manner in which the Executive Council terminated their services. Admittedly, the Human Rights Commission does not have “compulsive authority”, but as Justice Ray records, “...the strength of the recommendation is founded not upon compulsive authority, but upon the democratic pillars of reasonableness, correct setting out of facts and sufficiently persuasive quality of analysis in the recommending order”.
The case in question is the witch-hunt which hounded the four ever since they submitted a petition to the Executive Council of the University on 27 February 2012 challenging the recruitment process undertaken by the Vice Chancellor. Their decision to release copies of the complaint petition to the press was seen as an “anti University campaign” and the Executive Council in its meeting called by the VC in Delhi on 16 March 2012 decided the “punitive action shall have to be taken against those persons who try/ tried to defame the University on baseless grounds”. The EC then, allegedly after “prolonged deliberations”, decided that the services of Mr. Prasad and Mr. Mishra be discontinued with immediate effect.
Interestingly, at the same meeting, the EC also discussed the complaint submitted with it by the said faculty members.
The action against Mr. Prasad and Mr. Mishra began earlier on 06 March 2012 when they were served a show cause notice, “with the approval of the Vice Chancellor”, by the Registrar Jyoti P Tamang making an explanation call for breach of privilege because two newspapers [Samay Dainik and NOW!] had published details of their representation to the Executive Council.
The Registrar is not authorised to serve show cause notices to teaching faculty and as the Human Rights Commission has recorded, “there is no doubt that all these incidents took place at the behest of Lama”.
The served teachers responded by informing the Registrar that his show cause lacks authority, and the next they heard was of the termination of their services.
“Shocking indeed it is,” the Commission records of this sequence and conduct.
About the Executive Council’s eventual decision, the Commission records: “The Commission is not sitting in appeal over the decision of the Executive Council. But if findings are reached on no material at all, the decision is vitiated as perverse and discriminatory”.
The Commission observes that there is nothing, “absolutely nothing at all”, to show that the Executive Council when it met in New Delhi on 16 March 2012 had any material before it to “jump to the conclusion that the press releases were made by Rajendra”.
“The finding of releases to Press by the teachers was no more than a guess work by the Executive Council on 16/3/2012. It might have been a strong guess but it was nothing more than guess. The Executive Council was not betting on a horse at a racing track. They were terminating employments of serious teachers with stigma to whom the profession is bread and butter,” the Justice underlines.
This insensitivity and ignorance notwithstanding, the EC also bungled is not providing the terminated teachers a chance to defend themselves [a right enshrined in the Sikkim University Act] and thereby denying them natural justice. “It is today clear Indian Law that the employment of a public servant cannot be terminated with imputation of misconduct without observing the rules of natural justice,” the Human Right Commission order points out.
The Commission has also noticed that in the entire drama, “there is no opinion of Lama on record that immediate action is necessary. Though Lama now appears to have been the sole string puller behind everybody...”
It will be interesting to see how the University, as an institution, responds to the Human Rights Commission recommendations and what corrective measures, if any, it initiates. The University has been noticeable casual in attending to this case, with the final two-day hearing of the case – 21 and 22 February - having no representation of the University despite adequate notice. On 21 February, the SU counsel intimated the Commission that she was unwell and even her junior advocate was absent. As Justice Ray records, a University letter informed that the Junior Advocate had gone elsewhere and a letter seeking adjournment was left at the desk of his private secretary a day earlier and no one represented the University on the final two days. “It is unsatisfactory and inexcusable. But it is their business,” the Justice records.