Amidst an ‘escalating tussle’ between the Governor and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, Punjab’s prestigious health sciences university has been headless for nearly three months.
The reason: Governor Banwarilal Purohit, in his capacity as chancellor of the state universities, this month refused to clear the appointment of noted cardiologist Gurpreet Singh Wander as Vice-Chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences in Faridkot town, asking the government to shortlist a panel of three candidates.
Feeling upset, Wander, 62, the chief cardiologist of Hero DMC Heart Institute in Ludhiana, later withdrew his candidature for the post of the Vice-Chancellor.
The post fell vacant after one of the country’s top orthopaedic surgeons, Raj Bahadur, resigned from the post on July 30 after citing humiliation by Health Minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra during his visit to Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital in Faridkot.
The minister was caught in a row when he asked Raj Bahadur to lie on a ‘dirty’ patient’s bed during the visit.
The Governor on October 11 rejected the government’s decision to appoint Wander by seeking a panel of at least three candidates for the post to choose from by a select committee.
The Chief Minister on September 30 announced the appointment of Wander as the Vice-Chancellor of the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences.
“We hoped that under his able leadership this institution will make a valuable contribution to public service,” Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann tweeted on the day of the appointment.
With the turning down of Wander’s appointment, the already strained relations between Raj Bhavan and the government deteriorated further, admitted an official.
Justifying his decision, Mann told the media that “if he has desired, the government will send a panel of three names for appointment”.
At the same time, he clarified that the tradition is that the Governor gives consent to the name proposed by the government.
However, a senior state government official privy to the development told IANS that when previous incumbent Raj Bahadur was appointed to the post, the then Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government had sent three names for the post.
Joining issue, Punjab Agricultural University’s former Vice-Chancellor K.S. Aulakh said the government should have followed the procedure.
He questioned how the government made the announcement about Wander when it was not cleared by the Governor.
The decision on Wander’s appointment comes days after the Governor reminded Mann of his constitutional responsibility after he skipped a civic reception hosted by him in honour of visiting President Droupadi Murmu.
Responding to the purported ‘war of words’ between him and the government, the Governor reminded the government that in the past one year he didn’t utter one word against any person. Rather he has been praising the Chief Minister.
Going one step ahead, the Governor also issued a directive to the Chief Minister to remove Satbir Singh Gosal from the post of Ludhiana-based Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Vice-Chancellor by terming the appointment as “totally illegal”.
He said Gosal was appointed by the state government “without following UGC norms and approval of the Chancellor”.
Justifying his decision, Purohit last week told the media in an interaction at Raj Bhavan that as the Chancellor of the universities he’s performing his duty.
“Rather the government is interfering in his functioning. I will perform my duty. I have taken an oath to protect the Constitution. The Chief Minister should realise this. In fact, I administered the oath of office to the Chief Minister. He should not forget that.”
Governor Purohit, who previously held the top constitutional post in Tamil Nadu for four years, said Vice-Chancellors’ posts were being sold for Rs 40 crore to Rs 50 crore.
“I was Tamil Nadu Governor for four years. It was very bad there. In Tamil Nadu, the Vice-Chancellor post was sold for Rs 40 crore to Rs 50 crore,” Purohit said, adding he has appointed 27 Vice-Chancellors during his previous helm.
Responding to the ongoing controversy regarding the appointment of Vice-Chancellors, a noted academician, requesting anonymity, told IANS that education should be kept away from politics.
“A high-level search committee must be assigned to appoint a Vice-Chancellor with high academic credentials,” he added.
A majority of academicians feel the functioning of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences is being adversely affected due to the ongoing tussle between the constitutional head and the government.
An academician, who was a former Vice-Chancellor of a government university, expressed surprise about bringing into the limelight the appointment of Gosal as Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University after three months of his appointment.
Clarifying the facts, Chief Minister Mann in a missive to the Governor said Gosal’s appointment was done by the university’s board as per the norms of the Haryana and Punjab Agricultural University Act, 1970.
The approval of the Governor or the Chief Minister was not required, he said.
Even the teachers’ association of Punjab Agricultural University came out in support of Gosal, asking the Governor to reconsider his decision.
Amandeep Singh Punia, president of the university’s Kisan Club, said the university got a Vice-Chancellor after one year. “The university has finally started functioning in interests of farmers. The Vice-Chancellor shouldn’t be removed.”
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)