Bengal's vice-chancellors accuse Guv Dhankhar of 'humiliating' them, refuse to attend...

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Vice-chancellors of 20 state-aided universities in West Bengal on Tuesday evening declared that they felt “humiliated” and “intimated” by two letters from Raj Bhawan. The letters asked them to attend a virtual meeting called by Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Wednesday morning to discuss problems faced by students during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Dhankhar, who is also the de facto chancellor of all state universities, sent his first letter to the vice-chancellors on July 7, asking them to attend the meeting. The vice-chancellors wrote back, saying the invitation had to be routed through the education department according to law. Their letter was routed through the government.

The vice-chancellors said that on Monday and Tuesday Dhankhar sent them two more letters which they described as “humiliating” and “intimidating” and therefore decided not to attend the meeting.

Keeping Student Welfare uppermost in mind VCs must attend VIRTUAL CONFERENCE and desist partisan stance.

Taking positive approach for sake of education and students had an over reach ⁦@MamataOfficial.

"POLITICAL CAGING" of education would ve disastrous and suicidal.

— Governor West Bengal Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) July 15, 2020

Incidentally, higher education minister and Trinamool Congress secretary-general Partha Chatterjee and the principal secretary of the department met Dhankhar on Monday to discuss the state’s objections to the new guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC) on holding the examination.

Also read: Video clip by Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee helped Bengal follow Covid-19 rules

After Monday’s meeting, Raj Bhawan said in a statement that the governor and the minister “felt it imperative that the matter be taken up with the UGC and the HRD ministry to appreciate the situation in West Bengal and make suitable amendments in the guidelines.”

The situation changed on Tuesday. Dhankhar, who is known for posting tweets frequently, reacted on Twitter and hinted at an “undesirable situation” if the vice-chancellors did not attend the virtual meeting at 11 am on Wednesday.

Dhankhar tweeted, “Looking forward to VIRTUAL CONFERENCE tomorrow with VCs as regards student welfare. The conduct of VCs in not indicating open ended issues of students not appreciated. Surely not in sync with their office. Primary concern ought to be student welfare and not otherwise.”

“To break stalemate flagged issue @MamataOfficial. Her stance is “Universities and VCs are governed by their own statute and rules.” VCs must abide by directive of Governor/Chancellor, respond as per Act so as to avoid unwholesome situations and attend VIRTUAL CONFERENCE,” read Dhankhar’s second tweet.

At around 9.30 am on Wednesday, Dhankhar tweeted an image of a letter chief minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to him on Tuesday stating that vice-chancellors were governed by their own statute and rules and the governor had already met the high education minister. The chief minister also quoted a message that she received from the governor on Tuesday stating that non-attendance by the vice-chancellors would be a “serious matter in law.”

In the tweet, Dhankhar wrote, “political caging of education would be disaster and suicidal.”

In another tweet written in Bengali around 9.45 am, Dhankhar described the action by the vice-chancellors as biased.

Academicians said the issue might trigger a fresh acrimony between Dhankhar and the Mamata Banerjee government which earlier accused the governor of overstepping his jurisdiction on several occasions. Partha Chatterjee even alleged that the Raj Bhawan in Kolkata had turned into an extension of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state headquarters.

On Tuesday evening, Upacharya Parishad, the vice-chancellors’ body, issued a strongly-worded statement. It said, “…the Vice Chancellors received a humiliating letter (No. 358- S) from the office of the Hon’ble Chancellor on 13.07.2020 and again received an intimidating letter (No. 361-S) on 14.07.2020. Upacharya Parishad considers it extremely unfortunate to receive such communications from the office of the Hon’ble Chancellor during this critical national crisis.”

“The language used in the governor’s letters has hurt the prestige of the vice-chancellors. It is not possible for us to attend any meeting unless the invitation is routed through the high education department,” Dr Subires Bhattacharyya, vice-chancellor of North Bengal University and general-secretary of the Parishad, told local media.

The statement issued by the Parishad said that direct communication between the chancellor and the vice-chancellors is not possible under Rule 8 (5) of West Bengal State Universities (Terms and Conditions of Service of the Vice-Chancellors and the Manner and Procedure of Official Communication ), Rules 2019.

The law was framed last year by the government.

The Parishad’s statement said, “…..the vice-chancellors, acting legitimately as per rules cited above, find it extremely undesirable to receive such communications from the Hon’ble Chancellor’s office.”

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