Monday, October 6, 2008

University appointments scandal exposes a malaise

The public has long suspected that political corruption and nepotism are widespread in Kerala. However, in the absence of hard evidence, the extent of the malaise has been a matter of conjecture. Last week, the Lokayukta handed down a decision which reveals the extent to which appointments made by the University of Kerala are vitiated by this malaise.

Nearly 40,000 candidates had taken the examination conducted by the university in July 2005 to select candidates for appointment as Grade II Assistants. Those who qualified in the written test were interviewed between November 2007 and February this year.

In April, the university published a rank list of 1,401 successful candidates. Nearly 200 appointments are believed to have been made from this list so far.

The Upa-Lokayukta, Mr. Justice N. Krishnan Nair, who heard a complaint about gross irregularities in the examinations and interviews, concluded that there had been political interference in the selection process in favour of candidates in whom the political establishment was interested.

He recommended to the government to scrap the rank list, rescind the appointments already made and order fresh examinations. Holding that M.K. Ramachandran Nair, who was the Vice-Chancellor until recently, V. Jayaprakash, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, and four members of the University Syndicate, were responsible for the irregularities, he asked that criminal proceedings be instituted against them.

The Lokayukta Act vests in the government the power to punish those found guilty of irregularities. The Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayuktas can only make suitable recommendations in this regard.

The University of Kerala established in 1937 as the University of Travancore, is the State’s oldest institution of higher learning. The appointments scandal is the worst of its kind in the history of not only the university but any major institution in the State.

Politically, the Lokayukta’s decision is a stinging indictment of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which heads the ruling Left Democratic Front. The party controls the Syndicate, and the alleged irregularities were committed to favour relatives of its leaders or members of its students’ organization.

The credit for bringing the scandal to light belongs to Sujith, of Venjarammood, who was a student representative in the University Senate when the written examination for recruitment of Assistants was held.

As word spread in the university corridors that the examination records had been tampered with, Sujith sought access to the answer books under the Right to Information Act. His application was turned down. He then persuaded a candidate who had taken the examination to make a similar request.

The university informed the candidate that the relevant papers were with an institution outside the State, which had processed the matter, and the papers would be made available when they were received. However, the Syndicate decided not to give anyone access to the answer books.

Sujith then investigated the background of the successful candidates. He found that many of them were connected with the CPI (M) or the Students Federation of India.

Despite repeated directives from the Upa-Lokayukta, the university authorities did not produce records relating to the written examination. The Hyderabad firm, which was engaged to evaluate them, said it had returned all the papers with the results sheet. However, the Vice-Chancellor and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor insisted they had not received them.

The Upa-Lokayukta observed that the disappearance of the answer books indicated there had been irregularities. The interview process was used to help political favourites.

The former VC said the Upa-Lokayukta took a decision without considering all relevant material. The PVC said that he had only a small role in the recruitment process.

The University Syndicate resolved to approach the High Court with a plea to quash the Upa-Lokayukta’s decision.

When the issue came up in the State Assembly some time ago, the Education Minister had said the government would act when the Lokayukta’s report was received. However, in view of the university’s decision to move the High Court, it is expected to await the legal verdict.

According to the Syndicate members whom the Upa-Lokayukta has indicted, they cannot be blamed for the irregularities since they took office only in August 2006. The written examination was conducted and the answer books were evaluated during the tenure of the previous Syndicate, which was constituted by the last United Democratic Front government.

This argument may not save them in court since the interviews, which were apparently used to manipulate the rank list, took place after the present Syndicate came into being and its members were directly involved in the process. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 6, 2008.

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