‘Stigmatic aspersions’: Calcutta HC order on Visva Bharati sacking professor
Visva-Bharati sacked Sudipta Bhattacharya, who is also president of the faculty association, accusing him of supporting a recent agitation by students
The Calcutta high court said that “stigmatic aspersions” led to the summary termination of service of economics professor Sudipta Bhattacharya by West Bengal’s Visva Bharati University in December last year.
“I must record my dissatisfaction with regard to the letter dated December 22, 2022 issued by the registrar of Visva-Bharati as impugned in this writ petition,” Calcutta high court judge Kausik Chanda wrote in his order on January 17 after hearing a petition Bhattacharya filed challenging the termination without any hearing by the university.
HT saw a copy of the court order which was made available on Thursday.
In his order, justice Chanda questioned the university’s argument that Bhattacharya was on contractual service that could be terminated through an executive decision.
The judge wrote, “Prima facie, it appears that though the petitioner is a permanent ‘adhyapak’ (professor), the university sought to throw him out by termination of his service following the decision of the executive council taken completely behind his back levelling various stigmatic aspersions against him.”
The university was represented in court by lawyer Soumya Majumdar.
The judge wrote, “Mr. Majumdar, learned advocate appearing for the university sought to justify the action of the university by arguing that the petitioner is under contractual employment. I am not satisfied with the submission. In my prima facie view, the petitioner was a regular permanent employee, whose service could not be terminated without initiating a full-fledged disciplinary proceeding.”
The development at the high court comes days after 261 academics from across India and prominent US-based philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky spoke out in support of Bhattacharya and sought the intervention of President Droupadi Murmu.
Visva-Bharati - Bengal’s only national university set up by Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 at Santiniketan in Birbhum district - sacked Bhattacharya, who is also president of the faculty association, accusing him of supporting a recent agitation by students.
Asking the university to file an affidavit-in-opposition in seven days, the judge said the case will be heard again on January 31.
“The university, in the meantime, (hopefully) will not take any further steps against the petitioner following the impugned order,” the court order said.
Visva-Bharati authorities did not comment on the court order.
The letter Chomsky and other academicians sent to President Murmu on January 9 directly accused Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty without mentioning his name.
“The termination order is indicative of how the norms, laws and procedures governing Visva Bharati are being violated under the leadership of its current vice-chancellor,” the letter said.
The campus has witnessed a number of agitations by students and teachers ever since Chakrabarty took over in 2018.
In the last agitation held on November 24, the students gheraoed Chakrabarty demanding his resignation after submitting a charter of demands aimed at improving the functioning of the institution. The students alleged that he did not respond to it.
The Visva Bharati University Faculty Association, which had earlier agitated against the vice-chancellor for suspending a number of teachers on disciplinary ground, supported the students’ agitation. Bhattacharya was one of the teachers who was earlier suspended for several months.
The campus witnessed a long agitation last year when three students were expelled on disciplinary ground. The expulsion order was withdrawn after the Calcutta high court intervened.