In Row Over Vice Chancellor In Tamil Nadu, Arrest And Bail At Midnight

Tamil Nadu's opposition BJP alleges that Vice Chancellor R Jagannathan was arrested over concocted charges for refusing to appoint candidates pushed by the state government's Higher Education Department for the posts of Registrar and Controller of Examinations for the university.

In Row Over Vice Chancellor In Tamil Nadu, Arrest And Bail At Midnight

On December 26, R Jagannathan was arrested by the Salem police.


The dramatic late night arrest of the Vice Chancellor of Tamil Nadu's Periyar University last week has triggered a huge political controversy in the state.

Tamil Nadu's opposition BJP alleges that Vice Chancellor R Jagannathan was arrested over concocted charges for refusing to appoint candidates pushed by the state government's Higher Education Department for the posts of Registrar and Controller of Examinations for the university.

Dr Jagannathan was "punished" for following rules, alleged P Kanagasabapathy, Vice President of the Tamil Nadu BJP. "I know Professor Jagannathan for many years," said Kanagasabapathy, a retired professor.

"He is my senior and a very strict and honest person. For too many decades, unfit persons have been appointed to important posts in universities thanks to political interference and corruption. Because Professor Jagannathan tried to clean up the system, he has been punished. Let a fair enquiry take place - if he has indeed done what has been alleged against him, let him be punished according to law," he told NDTV.

A Midnight Arrest & Bail

On December 26, Dr Jagannathan was arrested by the Salem police and produced before a Judicial Magistrate at 11.45 p.m.

An FIR, filed on a complaint by lawyer Isaiah Elangovan, includes charges under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act.

The FIR claims I Elangovan had uncovered irregularities and corruption in the functioning of Periyar University, and when he confronted the Vice Chancellor, he was subjected to caste slurs and threats to his life.

On the corruption claim, the FIR says the Periyar University Technology Entrepreneurship and Research Foundation (PUTER Foundation) and PUTER Park Lab were set up without proper approvals.

In the midnight hearing, the magistrate was not convinced by the arrest made under the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act.

The Magistrate found the Investigation Officer's details "very meagre and skeletal." The complaint, he noted, did not show any "actual charge of misappropriation or cheating against the accused."

The Magistrate added, "For reasons best known to him, the Investigation officer directly resorted to the arrest of the accused and also produced him before this court within four hours of his arrest."

The prosecution argued against Dr Jagannathan's bail, saying the complainant was not present. The Magistrate did not deem that essential.

The Vice Chancellor was released on own bail, which means he could sign his own bail bond, on the condition that he would bring two bonds of Rs 10,000 each the next day. The hearing ended at 3 am on December 27.

The Complainant's Version

Mr Elangovan, explaining his absence at the hearing, said: "How do I know that the accused will be produced before the Magistrate at that time? The Magistrate must issue notice to me." He added that a sessions judge should have presided over the hearing.

The state government has challenged the Vice Chancellor's bail in the Madras High Court.

"I will fight it tooth and nail - he (Dr Jagannathan) has duped the government and the University. He has usurped the entire syndicate and is running the University as if he is a feudal lord. He refused to meet with me and asked me to get out. He called me by my caste name. I am a practising advocate and I will not make a mistake," said Elangovan.

"For six years, I was a member of the District Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare Committee constituted by the District Collector, Vellore. I am not a member of any political party and I cannot play second fiddle to any political party. These allegations of political interference are a story built by the supporters of the Vice Chancellor," he insisted.

A Turbulent Syndicate Meeting

NDTV reached out to members of the Periyar University Syndicate; they spoke on the condition of anonymity and claimed they feared harsh reprisal from the state government after the arrest of the Vice Chancellor.

Friction between the Vice Chancellor, government officials and the Periyar University Employees Union, a union of non-teaching staff, peaked in November over the sacking of four employees over insubordination and financial irregularities.

The sacked employees had gone to court, which had recommended that the University form a committee to "consider" their request for reinstatement. But the decision was not reversed. This raised strong objections from state Minister KN Nehru, who is also the DMK's party in-charge for Salem.

Witnesses told NDTV that the minister had slammed the Vice Chancellor in early November for terminating the four employees, who had allegedly been recommended by him. When Dr Jagannathan cited the rules, the minister allegedly shouted at him.

The Minister's displeasure is evident in an interview given by him to Tamil news channel Thanthi TV.

"There is a University in which four people have been dismissed despite the court asking the University to reinstate them. The Vice Chancellor is refusing to take them back," Mr Nehru told the channel.

"I don't know the reason - he just says he cannot reinstate them... I will say confidently that the Vice Chancellor in Salem terminated four employees for being DMK members and despite the court ordering the university to reinstate them and despite multiple pleas by the staff, the Vice Chancellor has refused."

The minister was asked whether there was interference by the Governor.

"Whether he is interfering or not, the Vice Chancellor is afraid. He is worried that someone may get upset. This is a small matter; the Governor may not speak about this. But the Vice Chancellor is using this as an opportunity," Mr Nehru replied.

On November 19, two days before a syndicate meeting, Elangovan sent emails to members of the syndicate as well as government officials alleging corruption. The Vice Chancellor has filed a police complaint seeking a probe into confidential meeting agenda being leaked to Elangovan.

At the meeting on November 21, a Deputy Secretary of the Higher Education Department arrived on behalf of the department's Secretary, A Karthik, who is a member.

According to a witness, Mr Karthik then joined the meeting through video conference and asked that a sealed cover be opened for the list of names for Registrar and Controller of Examinations.

"The Vice Chancellor insisted that rules must be followed and that meritorious candidates should be selected," said the witness. "An exchange of words took place, and the VC asked the Secretary why he was joining via video conference when a Deputy Secretary was already present. He said the rules do not permit it and the Secretary disconnected the call and left," recounted the witness.

NDTV emailed a questionnaire to the Higher Education Secretary but there is no response yet.

The state government has set up a committee to probe allegations against the Vice Chancellor.

The Vice Chancellor's home and office have been raided by the police even as he recovers in hospital from a heart ailment.