New Delhi: The Union HRD Ministry has kicked off the process to find a replacement for Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Vice Chancellor Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah seven months before the expiry of his term, the manner of its actions raising concerns whether the institution’s minority status could be at risk.
The ministry has written a letter to the university to initiate the process to find a replacement for Shah and also reminded it about the need to adhere to a clause of the University Grants Commission, which a few, including Shah, fear could undermine some of AMU’s distinctiveness.
Shah confirmed to News18 receipt of the ministry’s letter and said he had sought legal opinion on the ‘UGC Regulations 2010’ that stipulates that Vice Chancellor of any central university should have 10 years of teaching experience besides being an academician.
“We are seeking legal advice on the adoption of UGC Regulations 2010, which we want to be examined first. We want to know if it is going to jeopardise our minority status, which is a very sensitive and important issue for us,” he said.
Shah clarified AMU had no problems with the regulation, which is a general instruction for all central universities. “We are only examining if it will prejudice our stand or not,” he said. AMU has a “distinct process” to select the VC and the university was working on constituting a new selection panel for the next Vice Chancellor, which would be over by November, he said.
News18 is in possession of a copy of the letter written by Surat Singh, Deputy Secretary, Union Ministry for Human Resources Development (HRD), to the Registrar of AMU on September 20.
Traditionally, candidates for the VC position are shortlisted by the AMU Executive Council, which sends a list of five candidates to the ‘AMU Court’. Here, the number of candidates is brought down to three in the order of preference and this list is sent to the President of India, the Visitor of the university, for final selection.
Shah’s appointment as VC in 2012 had been challenged in the Supreme Court on grounds that it violated the UGC Regulations 2010 since he is a retired Army officer and not an academic. His appointment was challenged in the Allahabad High Court by alumni Syed Abrar Ahmed, but the ruling went in favour of Shah. The court said there was “nothing wrong with the procedure”, but the petitioner had since challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court where the case is going on.
When asked how the adoption of UGC Regulations 2010 will infringe upon the minority status of AMU, Shah didn’t elaborate except say that the university has its own methods and rules of appointment.
However, there are enough critics of Shah who allege that following UGC regulations and protecting the minority status of AMU are two different issues.
Mustafa Zaidi, suspended secretary of AMU Teachers’ Association, said there was no logic at play here. “Minority status is different from adoption of UGC Regulations – one has to do with functioning of the university, while the other is about regulation. There is no logic how maintaining good academic standards can jeopardise a minority status. Does that mean a minority institute should go for a sub-standard head or compromise on minimum qualifications?” he asked.
Zaidi was suspended from the AMUTA for holding dharnas against the VC and AMU administration.
In January 2016, the central government had told the Supreme Court that the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) cannot be categorised as a “minority institution” because it was established by an Act of Parliament and not set up by the Muslim community. This was a departure from the stand taken by the UPA government that had supported AMU’s minority status in court.
The NDA government, however, told the top court that over the years, it had "erroneously" treated the AMU as a minority institution established and administered under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
The latest HRD letter to AMU Registrar said that in setting up a panel for the appointment of new VC it should keep in mind the Supreme Court judgment in the Kalyani Mathivanan vs KV Keyaraj and Ors on March 11, 2015, “whereby it has been held the UGC Regulations 2010 are mandatory to teacher and other academic staff in all central universities and colleges and institutions deemed to be universities whose maintenance expenditure is met by the UGC.”
Also, regarding the “observance” of the UGC 2010 Regulations, the ministry has written to all central universities, “to adopt the UGC Regulations 2010 and carry out necessary changes in the statues.” Further, this ministry has written to the VC of AMU “regarding observance of the provisions of UGC Regulations 2010 while preparing the panel for appointment of new Vice Chancellor”.