Hyderabad: The two-member fact-finding committee sent by the Union HRD ministry to probe the suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula in the University of Hyderabad is learnt to have found fault with the university administration for its inept handling of the students’ suspension issue, which triggered unrest on the campus for the past four months.
The committee is expected to submit its report to the ministry by Saturday. Based on this report, the ministry is likely to sack Prof. Appa Rao Podile as vice-chancellor. Prof. Appa Rao took over as VC only in September 2014 and if suspended he would become the VC with the shortest tenure at the UoH. His six-year term is set to end in 2020.
The committee is said to have felt that there is strong resentment against Prof. Appa Rao among dalit students ever since his tenure as chief warden in the campus between 2001 and 2004. Prof. Appa Rao’s tenure as chief warden was also mired in controversy as he faced similar allegations of discriminating against Dalit students in hostels and messes, which led to suspension of a few Dalit students and violent incidents on the campus then.
I cut the quantum of punishment: Vice Chancellor
Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, in the eye of a storm, has reiterated that he will not quit the post in UoH, and rejected allegations that he is a BJP man. “I am not a party person. I have been appointed through a normal selection process involving 190 candidates and selected on the basis of merit,” he asserted, dismissing the charge that he was a nominee of a Union minister.
“It is only a coincidence that the VC’s selection happened during NDA period. As the head of the university, people think I am responsible for the suicide of the research scholar. The case was ongoing even before I took charge,” he said.
He was targeted as the suspension was withdrawn by in-charge VC Professor Sharma, but it was implemented in a diluted form by the new VC, following a court case. Mr Appa Rao wants the functioning of the university to carry on unhindered.
Stressing that he was lenient with the five expelled students and reduced the scale of punishment against them by overstepping the recommendation of the full EC committee, Mr Appa Rao said studies, research work and administrative functions cannot wait.
Students, the V-C said, would wait for the High Court decision over a plea to lift the suspension of the group of research students. ABVP leader N. Susheel Kumar’s mother filing the petition and the court taking it seriously created a situation in which the university could not avoid taking action.
Under pressure to give an Action Taken Report (ATR), he effected the suspension of the students from the university hostel, the VC said. It was in mid-November 2015 that the HC sought the ATR and gave the university just a few days’ time. “In the full meeting held on 27 November 2015, I proposed to the EC to be a bit lenient. The punishment recommended by the proctoral board – suspension of the students for the entire semester — would deprive these students of the scholarships.
As chairman of EC, I have reduced the scale of punishment to simple suspension from the hostel. It was made clear the students would be permitted in schools, departments, library and academic block, but not in groups in the hostel, administration wing and other public places on the campus, he explained.
Mr Appa Rao said he taught microbiology to Rohith, who committed suicide, and his loss was a personal loss to him. He wanted to meet Rohit’s family now and would do the best for them. Appa Rao is a native of Thullur in Guntur district.
Sitaram Yechury says Ministers, V-C are criminals
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Wednesday said that the issues leading to the suicide of Rohith Vemula should be treated as a criminal offence and Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya, HRD minister Smriti Irani and university VC Appa Rao Podile be booked under the recently ame-nded SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Mr Yechury said he will seek intervention by President Pranab Mukherjee and ask him as on basis the university was given the Visitor’s Award for Best University last year even as 12 Dalit scholars had committed suicide in the university over the last few years.
CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member Seema has written to the President and the Vice-President to immediately call a meeting of the university court to remove Appa Rao from the post of VC.
He said Prime Minis-ter Narendra Modi should order an inquiry and sack those responsible for the death of Rohith Vemula.
Committee may consider discrimination allegation
The committee took serious view of the same allegations of discrimination and violent incidents on the campus cropping up within four months after he assumed office as VC.
“These observations made by the inquiry committee while taking the depositions from suspended Dalit students, other students, research scholars and faculty members as part of its two-day inquiry would be crucial in deciding the fate of the VC,” said some senior faculty members and students, who deposed before the committee. The committee comprising Shakila T. Shamshu and Surat Singh completed their inquiry on Wednesday and they refused to comment on their probe.