By PROF. N.A.K. DURRANI
The reputation of Aligarh Muslim University and its functionaries emerged intact. All kind of insidious and irrelevant illusions relating to the hyped up AMU Fact Finding Enquiry’s outcomes were set to rest. The copy of the interim report obtained under RTI Act and now is available with the University has opened the eyes wide open and in a way shed enormous light on the dynamics of the black enquiry.
The Chairman of the enquiry committee, Justice B. A. Khan, in his categorical and crystal clear findings, has proved the innocence of the AMU Vice Chancellor, Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis beyond doubt on all the crucial first four major complaints and given a clean chit to the University on these contentious issues.
However, with reference to availing of the HTC prematurely, Justice Khan had certain reservations and at the same time he also noted that the VC “was very much so entitled and the only wrong done by him was that he had prematurely and hurriedly availed it of before waiting to become eligible for it under the rules and that no loss had consequently occurred to the University exchequer and that the amount received by him was adjustable and liable to be set off....”
FACT FINDING ENQUIRY & MHRD
An analysis of the Interim report including its winding up as well as the way the Fact Finding Enquiry has functioned shows the blatant interference, bias and also violation of rules under whose provisions the Fact-finding Enquiry was set up. It was set up by the President of India in the capacity as the Visitor of AMU under the provision of Section 13(2) of the AMU Act XL of 1920. Even a cursory examination suggests that there were certain grave inconsistencies with regard to selective dropping of the issues related to counter complainants and the process of finally concluding the enquiry.
The Sub-section (3) of the Section 13 of the AMU Act categorically states that “the Visitor may address the Vice Chancellor with reference to the result of such inspection and inquiry, and the Vice Chancellor shall communicate to the Executive Council the views of the Visitor with such advice as the Visitor may be pleased to offer upon the action to be taken.”
The discrete AMU community with a sense of deep anguish noted that instead of following this vital provision the MHRD abruptly issued the orders of winding up of the enquiry, undermining Sub-section 3 of the Section 13 of AMU Act. What is more disturbing is that the MHRD has put to wind the dignity and the autonomy of this historic University and its executive authority including its academic and executive head by taking a suo motu action of appointment of multiple agencies including CBI to further probe when it is absolutely clear that the total amount involved is frivolous and that the University has its fully secure built-in systems to rectify any of its financial dealings including the Finance Committee and Annual Audit of its accounts by C & AG.
The first AMU Fact Finding Enquiry Committee was floundered despite full records and documents were provided by the University. The MHRD curiously without looking into the genuine reasons for its failure recommended a second two-member fact finding Enquiry Committee headed by Justice B. A. Khan and Justice A. N. Divecha as its member.
Unfortunately, the second AMU Fact Finding Enquiry also remained inconclusive because as the interim report suggests that Justice Divecha has flawed in arriving at judgment by taking the line of complainants and stepping out of the mandated reference period.
The Chairman of the AMU Fact Finding Inquiry Committee (FFIC) Justice BA Khan was so dismayed by the conclusion arrived at by its member that he has declined to append his signature to the report, and instead wrote a long report of findings by observing in the very commencing sentence that “I find myself at odds to go by this line of reasoning and to go along with the Hon’ble member’s conclusion. This is so for the reason that I find no worthwhile basis for this conclusion.” He has clearly established a case of not guilty on all the four major points of contention raised by Justice Divecha.
CLEAN CHIT TO VC
The Chairman’s findings bear testimony to the fact that AMU Vice Chancellor cannot be held responsible for infringement of rule 30 of the AMU Travelling and Halting Allowance Rules as the University waived for incoming Vice Chancellor and could not be selectively applied to the present Vice Chancellor and this practice was found uniformly followed and that the Vice Chancellor’s acts would in no case constitute any offence of embezzlement or misappropriation.
While elaborating the issue in question Justice Khan observed that “I also fail to appreciate how this payment of TA/DA to the VC would constitute any offence of embezzlement or misappropriation or for that matter, any misconduct.” The offences of embezzlement and misappropriation have their own ingredients including the dishonest intention to convert someone’s moveable property to one’s own personal or private use. ‘Dishonest misappropriation’ is punishable under Section 403 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the illustrations cited therein need not be invoked to show that the act of the VC and that of the University would not fall in any of these.
It is not anybody’s case and it cannot be that the VC received or withdrew the amount with a dishonest intention to convert it to his personal use. On the contrary, he was found entitled to this through a bonafide pursuit of practice evolved by the University. It is also not a case of any abuse of power or position by the VC. He was offered the post at the University for which he had not applied and he was paid TA/DA on joining in line with a past practice followed by the University in case of all his predecessors and that is it. Should it be taken to constitute any financial wrong doing by any standard, the responsibility and blame should lie more with the University’s administrative set up than him.
Justice Khan, with an element of caution, pointed out that if a contrary view was taken and the payment treated as any financial irregularity then the same yardstick would have to be applied to all past VCs on the principle of equal treatment which would yield none-too-happy results and will open a Pandora’s box and stigmatise even those who are presently holding high constitutional positions. That would neither serve any public interest nor the interests of the University, he added.
Minutely scrutinising various documents, the chairman of the FFIC noted, “We have also seen that UP Auditor General’s Report which is on record and which holds TA/DA inadmissible to the VC on his first joining based on the premise that he was holding a tenure post at CUSAT and was to hold one at the AMU also in which case no transfer TA/DA was admissible. This report does not take in regard the University’s past practice of such TA/DA having been paid to past incoming VCs in similar circumstances.”
It is also not known what audit action had been taken in the case of those former incoming VCs which should be taken against the present VC also. We are also told that the UP Auditor General had treated this issue as a ‘minor query’, whatever that may mean in audit jargon, and the issue was pending consideration before the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Let that take its own course on the financial regime track.
“I beg to disagree with the Hon’ble Member’s finding that the VC had committed embezzlement and misappropriation of the AMU funds by receiving the TA/DA on joining. To me the payment was on an off-spring of the University’s past practice and so long as this practice was uniformly followed and went unquestioned, the VC would be entitled to equal treatment as given to his illustrious predecessors and would have to go scot-free along with the University,” he clarified.
Justice Khan concluded, “Rule 30 stood waived by the University qua incoming VCs and could not be selectively applied to the present VC only. The University’s practice of paying TA/DA to incoming VCs on joining was found uniformly followed and would apply to the present VC also on the principle of equal treatment to which he is entitled. The VC’s act would in no case constitute any offence of embezzlement or misappropriation and or misconduct.
Regarding HTC, the chairman was also categorical in finding that both the Vice Chancellor and the University have violated relevant rules on just one count of availing the LTC prematurely and considered the aberration as a curable irregularity as the Vice Chancellor had not drawn any HTC thereafter, though entitled and that in no case would it constitute embezzlement or misappropriation of University funds.
Justice Khan, while examining the way LTC was granted to the Vice Chancellor, noted that it would in no way amount to any embezzlement or misappropriation of University funds for his personal use because no dishonest intention to appropriate the University funds for his personal use could be attributed to him in availing of the HTC prematurely. It is not that the VC was not entitled and what was done by him was that he had prematurely and hurriedly availed it of before waiting to become eligible for it under the Rules. That he had not drawn any HTC from 2007 onwards till date and that no loss had consequently accrued to the University exchequer and that the amount received by him was adjustable and liable to be set off are mitigating circumstances which cannot be lost sight of.
While making a clear distinction between serious financial irregularity, he pointed out that the action in question did not and could not constitute offences of embezzlement, misappropriation or for that matter, misconduct. The VC’s only fault or mistake was that he enjoyed the facility prematurely before it could become available under the Rules. What action it attracts under the financial code regime is for the competent authority to decide.
VC’S VISITS TO HIS HOME STATE
In support of his finding relating to VC visits to his home, Justice Khan asserted that their grievance in short is that the VC had been making frequent private trips to his home state under the garb of ‘official visits’. The Hon’ble Member has accepted the complainants’ plea and has declared the VC’s visit as private. He has done so on drawing inference from the absence of the print line in the invitation card received by the VC and the University’s inability to produce its original and also the absence of details (like whom he was to meet, etc,) in his travel programme.
Similarly, on the Vice Chancellor’s visit to Kochi prior to his visit to Jamia Millia Islamia, Justice B.A. Khan’s findings revealed that the Vice Chancellor’s visit to Kochi was scheduled prior to the function at Jamia Millia Islamia and it could not be said or held that he had used the Jamia function as a ploy to visit Kochi and that no University funds could be said to have been unduly consumed by Vice Chancellor in this regard.
He concluded, “It needs to be pointed out at the outset that there is a presumption of correctness attached to official record and official acts. Once the University record shows that the VC’s visit to Kochi was prescheduled from December 19-25, 2007 prior to the Jamia function and he was to explore the allotment of land for setting up of a Centre there, there should be no reason to doubt its veracity in the absence of any strong proof in rebuttal which would point to the VC being on a holiday or a leisure trip at the cost of the University exchequer.
It would be loathsome to enter into these thickets requiring a high dignitary like the VC to account for activities on a visit ball by ball. To me, the institutional head and its functionaries are the best judges of what is official and what is private. No outside agency or element can or should be credited with any status or authority to otherwise undertake any such determination. It would be detrimental to interests of administration to allow all and sundry to meddle in the official affairs and adjudge the nature of official acts of public functionaries. This way, no institutional head or functionary would be willing or able to put in his best and function effectively. Justice BA Khan further concluded that every institution has its own inbuilt mechanism to ascertain the nature of the goings on within it and activities and actions of its official functionaries, high or low. The AMU should be no exception. I, therefore, respectfully disagree with the conclusion drawn by the Hon’ble Member in this regard and reject the premise that the VC had managed a visit to his hometown Kochi on the pretext of attending a Conference at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi which he did on his return from Kochi on 26.12.2007.”
The Chairman Justice B. A. Khan’s findings were very clear in this respect when he pronounced that the VC’s visit to Kochi was scheduled prior to the function at Jamia Millia Islamia and it could not be said or held that he had used the Jamia function as a ploy to visit Kochi. No University funds could be said to have been unduly consumed by the VC in this regard. No outside agency or element can take upon itself any determination of the nature of the activities of high official functionaries like the VC and it is better left to the officialdom to do so.
Likewise his findings exposed the flaw found in the other member’s view as Chairman Justice BA Khan observed that the conclusion that the Vice Chancellor was engaged in a private activity in and around Thiruvananthapuram has no basis in the face of the official record and that the payment of Rs. 15000 to the taxi agency by the University would not amount to any wrongful gain made by the Vice Chancellor.
He further observed that the University has again denied this and has explained that the VC was engaged in official activities at Thiruvananthapuram, Alapuzzha, Kakkanad and Kochi and to facilitate his movement a taxi was hired from 26.08.2007 to 03.09.2007 and taxi charges of Rs. 15,000.00 were directly paid by the University to the taxi agency. It has referred to and relied upon the Office Memo dated 25.08.2007 stating that the VC will be visiting Thiruvananthapuram between 26.08.2007 to 03.09.2007, Note on the visit to Thiruvananthapuram Detailed travel schedule Copies of programmes attended by the VC and Copy of receipt for payments made towards taxi charges.
With this, there should have been no issue on the payment of taxi charges. However, the Hon’ble Member has disregarded and discarded the University’s explanation and has declared the activities of the VC as private for which I find no basis. In my view, the nature and character of the functions attended by him, including that of the AMU Old Boys’ Association, etc. and his meetings with public figures at various places in and around Thiruvananthapuram had to be best left to University’s officialdom to determine and once its administrative setup had treated these as official, the matter should rest at that, he concluded.
Finally, the Chairman of the Fact Finding Enquiry Committee states that “the Hon’ble Member has concluded his Interim Report by referring to what he calls ‘two important communications from one whistle blower’ and two applications under the Right to Information Act (RTI Applications) found in the file received in sealed cover from the Ministry of Human Resource Development relating to the appointment of the present VC. The two communications are of 22.01.2007 and 22.03.2007, i.e. before Prof. P. K. Abdul Azis took charge as VC of AMU – a fact that has been noted by the Hon’ble Member himself. As stated earlier, the HRD Ministry has on 27.07.2010 clarified that the Inquiry against the VC was restricted to the period starting from the date when he took charge at AMU. These communications, therefore, do not fall within the terms of reference of this Committee. Likewise, the RTI Applications referred to were not an issue before this Committee. Neither was any pleading filed nor any argument raised in this regard by any of the parties. Therefore, there was no occasion or scope for incorporation of these in the Interim Report. The issues raised are extraneous to the Committee’s Terms of Reference. These issues were neither raised nor debated during the Inquiry proceedings and therefore, do not merit any consideration”.
In the light of the clear findings of the Chairman of the AMU Fact Finding Enquiry Committee, Justice B.A. Khan based upon sound records and documents provided by the University any attempt to cast aspersions on the functioning of AMU and its Vice Chancellor will amount to defamation and will be seen as a malicious attempt to deliberately tarnish the image of AMU and its academic and executive head. Similarly, any further attempt by MHRD will be tantamount to a deliberate bias fostered on AMU to damage its special status in the heart of Muslims of India and across the globe.
Already much damage has been done to both AMU and its image. The concomitant result is that almost rupees one crore went into the drain on an enquiry forced upon AMU based on wild and mischievous allegations of futile consequence and by certain old boys and other vested interest group.
[PROF. N.A.K. DURRANI is a Professor and Chairman Department of Mass Communication, AMU and a current affairs analyst.]