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CBI enquiry to tarnish the AMU image

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A CBI enquiry has been ordered against the AMU Vice Chancellor Prof. PK Abdul Azis. Section 13 of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Act 1920 makes a mention about an enquiry to be made in respect of any matter connected with the administration or finances of the University. The Act speaks about an enquiry against the University. It does not speak about an enquiry against the VC, PVC, Registrar or any other employee of the University.

But an enquiry against the University, in essence, means an enquiry against an employee of the University who is alleged to have committed administrative or financial irregularities. It is spoken of as, in the legal parlance, “the principle of piercing the veil.” The CBI enquiry is a sequel of the interim report dated 17 March 2011 submitted by a fact-finding committee consisting of Justice (Retd) BA Khan (chairman) and Justice (Retd) AN Divecha which was constituted vide a Visitorial notification issued on 4 February 2010 to enquire into certain allegations against the VC levelled by eight members of the Executive Council (EC) of the AMU and also to enquire into certain counter-allegations against these eight members of the EC levelled by as many as 23 members of the AMU court, some members of the EC and some senior professors of the University.

The allegations against the 8 complaints EC members were that of extracting undue benefit from the University, blackmailing the VC, their past conduct and creating a quorum problem for the EC meetings to blackmail and harass the VC and the University administration. The fact-finding enquiry was, in fact, a double-edged weapon but the edge against the eight complainants was dexterously and conceitfully blunted by the HRD ministry where some members of the eight complainants have easy access. The visitorial notification stated that the enquiry will cover the past conduct of the eight complainants for a period of two decades. It is relevant to mention here that the first fact-finding enquiry committee consisting of Justice (Retd.) Fakhruddin and Akbar Jung could submit nothing as there were differences of opinion between them and because of this they could not pull together though they held several hearings, all at Aligarh and not a single one at Delhi and charged nothing towards their remuneration. The first presidential notification had authorised them to fix their own remuneration to be paid by the AMU.

Similar was the case with the second verbatim notification appointing the second fact-finding committee which has submitted the interim report. Before dealing with the impropriety committed by the enquiry committee, the HRD ministry and the findings of the interim report, it is pertinent to go into the brief background of the whole ugly incident which is sure to damage the otherwise immaculate image of the AMU.

 
Background
 
Prof. PK Abdul AzisProf. PK Abdul Azis joined as the AMU VC on 11 June 2007. His earlier posting was as the VC of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). He was a popular choice of the Muslim community of India. The AMU court, the supreme governing body of the AMU, is a representative body of the Indian Muslims and he had got maximum number of votes for appointment as AMU VC. Some of the eight complainants too were proactive in his appointment and one of them had even gone to Kerala to meet him as a sycophant. There is a strong vested interest group on the AMU campus which consists of a powerful teacher-builder-contractor nexus.

On assuming the charge, Prof. PK Abdul Azis, little realising that this powerful group will be adversely affected, took some unprecedented strong administrative measures aimed at doing away with the rampant corruption. The building contract was transferred to the CPWD. The uniform contract was given to the Khadi Gram Udyog. The central automobile workshop was privatised etc. One member of the eight complainants was heading the purchase committee which was now broadbased by adding some more members to it.

These drastic steps, taken in the larger interest of the University, antagonised the vested interest group. A deep-rooted conspiracy was hatched to entrap Prof. PK Abdul Azis and create a situation for him to resign and go back to Kerala. Backed by the builder mafia, they complained to the Visitor of the University (President of India) through the HRD ministry. As stated above, 23 members of the AMU Court/EC also complained to the Visitor through the HRD ministry against the anti-university past conduct of these eight complainants. For example, one of these complainants was the beneficiary of the building contracts. Another member of this group had manipulated his date of birth. Action was to be taken against him in the EC meeting. All the major decisions to run the University are taken by the EC which is chaired by the VC. For dual purpose of preventing the EC from taking any action against the manipulator of his date of birth and for harassing and blackmailing the VC, the eight complainants, who were members of the EC, saw to it that its meetings are not held for lack of quorum. They came to Aligarh, stayed in the University guest house, claimed TA/DA but did not attend EC meeting with the malafide intention to harass the VC who is the chairman of the EC. One of the allegations against the VC is that he held the EC meeting without the required quorum.

The interim report
 
The interim report dated 17 Feb. 2011 is the basis of CBI enquiry and an audit enquiry by the CVC. The member and the chairman of the fact-finding enquiry committee have written separate judgements. The committee, suo motu, selected only four allegations against the VC out of many other allegations, heard the parties and delivered a split judgement. Justice Divecha found the VC guilty on the four counts whereas the chairman Justice Khan found the VC not guilty of any financial irregularities on the four selected counts.
 
The four allegations
 
The four selected major allegations on which the split interim report was submitted are as follows:
  1. The VC claimed and was paid TA/DA of an amount of Rs. 81,650 on his first joining which is not legally permissible as the same is in violation of Rule 30 of the AMU Travelling and Halting Allowances Rules which does not allow TA to any person for the journey to join his first appointment.
  2. The VC claimed and was paid Home Travel Concession (HTC) of an amount of Rs. 93,053 for sending his family back home to Kerala within four days of joining.
  3. The VC visited the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi as the Chief Guest of the 26th All India ASU Conference for which he charged fare via Kochi and claimed TA/DA of Rs. 61,143 and taxi charges of Rs 12,797 hired in Kochi; the total amounting to Rs. 76,940, and
  4. The VC claimed and was paid expenses of Rs. 15000 for hiring taxi for private use in and around Thiruvanthapuram.
 
Report of the member
 
Without going deeper and taking a superficial and mechanical view of the allegations, oblivious of the status of the AMU VC, and most importantly, his dislike and aversion for the University advocate who, according to the Hon’ble member, misrepresented and lied before the enquiry committee, the Hon’ble member found the VC guilty of financial irregularities on the four counts. In his zeal to fix the AMU VC, he has taken into consideration extraneous facts and factors and has even transgressed the terms of reference of the enquiry.

During the conduct of the enquiry, his aversionist attitude towards the University counsel was apparent. He has indicted the said counsel in strong words. Instead of being an objective report based on facts, evidence and legal acumen, the 27-page report penned by the Hon’ble member Justice Divecha has become a personalised and subjective report as per the wish of the HRD ministry. That is why he has used hard words like “embezzlement” and “personal gain” forgetting that only a fool will try to “gain” by claiming TA/DA in thousands when he had the opportunity to do the same in lakhs and crores in opening the AMU centres at Mallapuram and Murshidabad involving expenditure worth several hundred crores. The annual budget of the University itself is about Rs 400 crores. There might be many easy avenues for the VC if he really wanted undue financial gain.

 
Chairman’s report
 
In his 24-page erudite judgement, Justice Khan has taken a holistic, deeper and post-mortem like view of the allegations, facts and circumstances surrounding them. He has tersely penned his public-oriented judgement which can hardly be faulted. Only one example will suffice. Dealing with the first allegation, while he, like Justice Divecha, has rejected the university’s stand that the VC Azis was not on his first joining but was rather on transfer from the CUSAT to AMU, and holding that the claim of TA/DA of an amount of Rs 81,654 was against Rule 30, Justice Khan has taken into consideration the fact that several past AMU VCs, including Mr. Hamid Ansari, the Vice President of India, have availed such TA/DA for which the University had put documentary proof on record. The VC is a victim of wrong precedent. There is no malafide intention on his part to cheat the university or to illegally gain. He weighs holding the VC guilty on this count in the constitutional perspective of Article 14. According to the Hon’ble chairman, singling out one VC out of many similar incidents will violate the clear mandate of Article 14 of the Constitution of India which prohibits discrimination amongst similarly situated persons. He too has indicted the university counsel but has given an unbiased, balanced and objective report based on facts, evidence and constitutional propositions.
 
About the Enquiry Committee
 
About Rs. 95 lakhs have been spent on securing an interim report which, as per the order of the HRD ministry, was paid by the university. Both the judges claimed salary of a sitting High Court judge, though both of them were drawing pension at the time (legally, full salary and pension can’t be claimed simultaneously). Monthly salary was claimed though the sittings of the committee took place at a maximum of four hearings a month. The university also provided cars to them, rent of the venue (IICC) where hearings took place, office expense, TA/DA of Justice Divecha (sometimes including his wife) from Ahmadabad to Delhi and back, his stay in a posh hotel and good food. etc. Thus, per se, is a subject of enquiry.
 
Illegalities committed by the HRD Ministry
 
The communal elements in the ministry and in other Govt. departments are always on the look out to find an opportunity to malign the AMU. After receiving the interim report, the HRD ministry recommended to the Visitor a CBI enquiry against the university at the instance of the complainants, one of them is known to be close to the HRD minister. The Visitor ordered an enquiry by the CBI and the CVC. The CBI has taken up the preliminary enquiry without formally registering a criminal case.

The enquiry was ordered under section 13 (1) of the AMU Act, 1920. Subsections (2A) to (5) of Section 13 speak about the manner in which a report is to be dealt with. Instead of ordering for a CBI enquiry, the proper course for the HRD ministry/Visitor was to forward the result of the enquiry to the EC through the VC with its advice. Thereafter, under sub-section (4), the EC shall communicate through the VC to the Visitor such action, if any, as it is proposed to take or has been taken upon the result of such inspection or enquiry. As per sub-section (5), where the E C, within a reasonable time, does not take action to the satisfaction of the Visitor, the Visitor may after considering any explanation furnished or representation made by the EC, issue such direction as he may think fit and the EC shall comply with such directions.

Two options open
 
Since the interim report was a split report about only for major allegations ignoring any interim report on counter allegations, the HRD ministry/Visitor should have ordered for a full-fledged enquiry or should have forwarded the report to the EC through the VC to be dealt with under sub-sections (2A) to (5) of section 13 of the AMU Act, 1920.
 
Reputation of AMU in jeopardy
 
On hearing about the CBI enquiry, the anti-VC group celebrated in the University campus. Little realising that in the pursuit of mindless personal vendetta against the VC, they are causing unfathomable harm and injury to their own institution. The danger to the AMU has always been from within, hardly from outside. The soul of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan must be languishing in utter pain and despair.

This is the first CBI enquiry against a central university in India. It will have an adverse effect on the placement companies who make on-the-spot recruitment at the AMU campus. The anti-VC group has become anti-University as it is not allowing the VC and the university administration to complete selection committees. If the selections are not done, a large number of posts will lapse.

Discrimination
 
A CBI enquiry has been ordered by the Visitor on the aid and advice of the HRD ministry with regard to TA/DA and even with regard to appointment of provosts. At the investigation of the same the vested interest group misguided students with the aid of outsiders, had put the VC lodge on arson and had looted his laptops and smashed other articles. The VC’s life was somehow saved. This was a pre-planned attack with the help of ladder, kerosene oil and petrol. Yet, there was no CBI enquiry. Some mysterious murder of students took place but there was no CBI enquiry despite a demand for the same. But, now, the AMU has been put on a CBI enquiry for small financial irregularities, raising of the boundary wall, CCTV cameras, purchase of furniture and car etc.
 
Progress unaffected
 
Despite tough opposition, attack on his life, remaining in Aligarh without his family for fear of their lives, and himself remaining in constant fear, it stands to the credit of Prof. Abdul Azis that he has helped establish two AMU centres functional at Mallapuram and Murshidabad. Other AMU centres too will be functional from the next year. Number of PhD awards has gone up. Lot of progress is there for raising the Dr. Zakir Hussain College of Engg. & Technology to the status of IIT, and JN Medical College to the status of the AIIMS.
 
Task before the Muslim community
 
The reputation of the AMU is at stake by the CBI enquiry as if some big scam has taken place there. Prof. Abdul Azis will return to Kerala in January 2012 but the institution remain for ever. Bigger financial bunglings are reported from other universities. Why the AMU has been singled out for a differential treatment? The CBI enquiry must be stopped. It is for true Aligarians and community leaders to represent to the PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to stop this cruel joke with the AMU.

While the CBI has already taken up the case for a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) without registering a regular case, and has demanded the relevant records which have been supplied by the AMU, the HRD ministry, through the under secretary Shri Jugal Singh has slapped a palpably illegal and misconceived notice on 10 August, 2011 on the AMU through its Registrar Prof. V. K. Abdul Jaleel. This notice is based on the directions of the Visitor of the AMU. According to the notice, “Prof. P. K. Abdul Azis, the Vice Chancellor of the AMU, who is completing office on 17 Jan. 2012, be restrained from making any appointment and promotion, as also from taking any policy decision which may have long term financial or other implications on the executive and academic functioning of the university.” In the second para of the notice, it has been “clarified that the directions of the Visitor issued by this ministry vide Show Cause Notice No. 3-29/2010 - Desk (U) dated 17 Dec. 2010 to keep the meeting of the university operation court in abeyance, are still in operation.” The third para of the impugned notice says, “In view of the above directions of the Visitor, it is requested that the University may call a meeting of the Executive Council to draw the requisite panel of names in terms of statue 2 (1) of the statutes of the university and then submit a formal proposal to this ministry for seeking the Visitor’s permission to hold the meeting of the university court for preparing a panel for appointment of the Vice-Chancellor.”

Notice Void AB Initio
 
The notice under question is void ab initio as none of the directions of the Visitor contained in the said notice is within the power and jurisdiction of the Visitor of the AMU. It is a direct attack on the autonomy of the university. The powers of the Visitor are contained in Section 13 of the AMU Act. As stated earlier, the Visitor has the power to cause an enquiry or inspection of  the university; the Visitor may send the result of the enquiry alongwith his advice for action to the VC who shall communicate the same to the EC; the EC shall communicate through the VC to the Visitor such action, if any, as it is proposed to take or has been taken upon the result of such inspection or enquiry; if the EC does not take action to the satisfaction of the Visitor, the Visitor may issue directions and the EC shall comply with such direction but before issuing such directions, the Visitor shall consider any explanation or representation made by the EC. Thus, in view of the above explicit provisions, the role of the Visitor comes into play only after the result of the CBI enquiry is before her. The Visitor can exercise her power only after some material is available to her for proceeding against the University or the VC. She cannot act arbitrarily and capriciously and issue the impugned directions. The notice is a result of non-application of mind and a revengeful attitude of the HRD ministry to fix the defenceless AMU Vice Chancellor at the behest of the anti-VC lobby. The order of the Visitor is not lawful and hence the VC and the university authorities can ignore the same and hold the court meeting to elect the Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Treasurer and six members of the EC and, only thereafter, start the process of preparing a panel of prospective candidates for appointment of next VC of the AMU. The Visitor can intervene in the affairs of the AMU only when there is notation of the Act or Ordinances of the University. The Show Cause Notice dated 17 Dec. 2010 was justified as 35 days statutory notice had not been issued. The university rightly cancelled that meeting and with the cancellation of the meeting, the notice dated 17 Dec. 10 became non est (non-existent). The University was free to hold the court meeting after serving 35 days prior notice to the court members. Now, the Visitor’s insistence that the notice dated 17 Dec. 2010 keeping the meeting of the court in abeyance is still in operation is a direct attack on the autonomous functioning of the University.

Curtailing the powers of the VC amounts to a punishment, and legally speaking, no punishment can be inflicted without some material, without some enquiry, without some reason, without affording a reasonable opportunity to the VC to defend himself. This is a blatant misuse of power by the Visitor on the misconceived and revengeful advice of the concerned ministry. As per the directions, the VC cannot hold Selection Committees as a result of which many posts/promotions shall lapse before his exit from the university on or about 17 Jan. 2012 causing unfathomable harm to the AMU.

Selection of new VC
 
While the anxiety of the ministry/Visitor to initiate the process for a new VC for the AMU is appreciable, its direction to hold the meeting of the incomplete EC and then seek the permission of the Visitor to hold the court meeting for selection of a new VC is simply illegal and unwarranted encroachment on the independent and autonomous functioning of the university. This is for the first time in the history of the AMU that such inroad in its internal administrative functioning has been made. (It is clarified that the EC prepares a panel of five names which is sent to the AMU court which in turn sends three names which are forwarded to the Visitor who appoints one of the three).
 
Democratic functioning in jeopardy
 
Democratic process must be completed before the initiation of the process for the selection of a new VC for the AMU. The EC consists of 27 members. Presently, there are only 16 members; 11 seats are vacant - two from lecturers category, six from the court category and one post of treasurer. In order to complete the full strength of the E C, it is incumbent to hold the AMU court meeting first to elect the six members of the EC from the Court itself, and the treasurer. Four vacancies of teachers category should also be filled. Only after the full strength of the EC is ensured, the process for selection of a new VC should start which will be in tandem with the democratic norms. The direction of the Visitor to hold the EC meeting first and court meeting later is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.

The real sympathisers of the AMU are so perturbed by the impugned notification dated 10 Aug. 2011 that they have issued a strong statement condemning the same. The statement signed by Prof. Irfan Habib, Professor Emeritus AMU; Prof. M. Saleemuddin, former PVC; Prof. Wasi Haider (Physics); Prof. Ramesh Rawat (Hindi); Prof. Sheerin Moosvi (History) Prof. S. Imtiaz Hasnain (Linguistics); Prof. S. Alim Husain Naqvi (Applied Physics) and Prof. Shamir Hasan, says, “We hold that the letter of the ministry constitutes an illegal attack on the autonomy of the University and shows total disregard of the immediate and long lasting effects on the teaching and functioning of one of the major institutions of higher learning in the country.” The statement, inter alia, appeals, “We particularly request members of Parliament to intervene and ensure that the government strictly obeys the law legislated by the Parliament and abide by its provisions.”

Legal remedy
 
The AMU needs an Anna Hazare to make the UPA government realise that it has committed patent illegalities and meted out big injustice to the autonomy of the AMU with far-reaching dangerous ramifications. Alongwith political solution, it is equally important to resort to legal and constitutional remedies. The university should challenge the notification. After all, at stake is the autonomy of the AMU. The notification has no leg to stand the judicial scrutiny.
 
Mushtaq Ahmad Alig is Advocate-on-record, Supreme Court

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2011 on page no. 8

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