The Kerala High Court on Monday allowed the vice chancellors of nine state-run universities to continue at their positions till a final order on the matter is passed by the governor, Live Law reported.

On Sunday, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan had directed the vice chancellors to submit their resignations, citing a Supreme Court verdict. The nine vice chancellors challenged the order in the High Court.

At a special sitting on Monday, Justice Devan Ramachandran orally observed that the governor did not have the authority to have passed such a directive. “It does not require much judgements to say no one can be asked to tender resignation,” he said.

The judge added such an order should have been passed after a proper inquiry, particularly as the vice chancellors had arguments to support their case.

The court held that all nine of them could continue in their positions till the governor, who is the ex-officio chancellor of the universities, passes an order on the basis of a showcause notice.

On Monday, Khan issued notices to the vice chancellors and directed them to state by November 3 why their appointments should not be declared illegal.

Khan has sought the resignation of vice chancellors of University of Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi University, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Kannur University, APJ Adbul Kalam Technology University, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, University of Calicut and Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University.

The vice chancellors of Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University, University of Calicut and Cochin University of Science and Technology were asked to resign as their search committees had non-academic members, according to The News Minute. For the rest, the search committees only recommended one name instead of three.

Khan had asked the vice chancellors to tender their resignations by 11.30 am on Monday.

Kannur University Vice Chancellor Dr Gopinath Ravindran said he would not resign.

“A case is pending in the Supreme Court pertaining to my appointment,” he told reporters. “Let the governor sack me. The directive is very unusual.”

A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar on October 21 held that the search committee that recommended appointing Rajasree MS as the vice chancellor of APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University was in violation of University Grants Commission norms, reported The Indian Express.

The court said that according to the University Act 2015, the committee should unanimously nominate three persons for the role, but it had only recommended Rajasree’s name. The judges set aside her appointment.

In a letter to the vice chancellors on Sunday, Khan said the Supreme Court verdict was applicable to other universities too.

Unusual move, says CM

Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday said that the governor does not have the authority to seek the resignation of the vice chancellors, describing his decision as an “unusual move”, reported PTI.

Noting that it was Khan who appointed the nine vice chancellors, the chief minister said if the appointments are illegal then the responsibility lies with the governor.

“The governor is misusing chancellor’s post to exercise more powers than he holds,” Vijayan said, according to ANI. “It’s undemocratic and an encroachment on vice chancellor’s powers. The governor’s post is not to move against government, but to uphold the Constitution’s dignity.”

Accusing Khan of being a tool of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vijayan alleged that the governor was waging a war with an intention to destroy universities in the state.

On Sunday, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is the main constituent of the ruling Left Democratic Alliance, alleged in a statement that the governor’s decision was “Sangh Parivar conspiracy to weaken Kerala’s resistance against the saffronisation of the education sector”.

“The governor’s move is part of a conspiracy to destroy the state’s higher education and part of the Union Government’s common agenda to torpedo the state’s developmental schemes,” it added.

Hours before the governor’s decision, the Left Democratic Alliance government had announced a series of campaigns, including mass protests, against Khan, accusing him of making a move to implement “Sangh Parivar agenda” in the state universities.

The control of universities has been a point of contention between the governor and the LDF government, according to The Indian Express.

On October 15, Khan had withdrawn 15 nominees from the senate of Kerala University in his capacity as its chancellor. He took the decision as they did not attend senate meetings for proposing nominees for the next vice chancellor.

Last month, the Kerala Assembly had passed the University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022, that seeks to curtail the powers of the governor in appointing vice chancellors.