The Madras High Court Bench here on Monday declared as illegal the dismissal of T. Chinnaraj Joseph Jaikumar from the post of Principal of the American College. It also held that he was entitled to continue in the post with all consequential benefits attached to the office.
Disposing of a batch of writ appeals, a Division Bench of Justice V. Ramasubramanian and Justice D. Hariparanthaman said that the proceedings initiated against Dr. Jaikumar were illegal and contrary to the by-laws of the ‘Governing Council of American College,’ a society registered in June 1934.
Recalling the history of the case, the judges said: "That it is possible at times, due to irony of fate, for an insignificant event to get flared up into a huge controversy, is amply demonstrated by the batch of cases on hand. In a nutshell, one simple leave application by the Principal led to a spate of events."
Initially, Dr. Jaikumar submitted an application to the Director of Collegiate Education (DCE) seeking sanction for taking leave between April 9 and May 2, 2008 to go abroad. A day before the commencement of the leave period, he decided to cancel the leave and put up a notice in this regard in the college premises.
Nevertheless, Rev. Christopher Asir, Bishop of Church of South India (CSI), Madurai and Ramnad Diocese, in his capacity as the chairman of the Governing Council of the college wrote a letter to Vice-principal V. George Selvakumar on April 10 to assume charge as principal.
"The letter given by the bishop… led to acrimony on April 12 resulting in police complaints followed by certain untoward incidents in which the Guru Kshetra (abode of teachers) became a Kurukshetra (battle field). Therefore, on the same day, Dr. Jaikumar placed Dr. Selvakumar under suspension," the judges said.
In retaliation, Dr. Selvakumar convened a meeting of the General Council on April 19 claiming to be the secretary of the society by virtue of being the Principal (in-charge). Then, it was resolved to suspend Dr. Jaikumar and appoint Dr. Selvakumar as the Principal and Secretary (in-charge).
Writing the judgement for the Bench, Justice Ramasubramanian pointed out that the vice-principal could not have occupied the post of principal as Dr. Jaikumar did not proceed on leave at all. He was not supposed to take leave without sanction and a sanction order passed by the DCE was received by the college only on April 19, ten days after the commencement of the leave period.
"Though the Bishop has taken a stand that the principal absented himself from April 9, a charge framed by the Bishop himself exposes the falsity of such a stand. Charge No. 3 against the principal is that he did not cancel his leave application in a manner known to law, but entered the college and obstructed the vice-principal from acting as principal," the judge pointed out.
"The question of cancelling the leave application would arise only after the leave is sanctioned… A leave application which is not sanctioned till the intended date need not be cancelled. A leave application is not like an application for voluntary retirement where withdrawal before the acceptance is necessary," Justice Ramasubramanian said.