The Kerala High Court has held that no one could be prevented from expressing views merely because he/she was an employee of an organization. The court said this while directing the Central University of Kerala (CUK), Kasargod, to reinstate an associate professor who was suspended for allegedly criticising the university on social media.
“In a democracy, every institution is governed by democratic norms. Healthy criticism is a better way to govern a public institution,” the court observed and asked the varsity to reinstate the suspended teacher as the Head of the Department (HoD). The University had argued that appointment of an HoD appointment was a prerogative posting made by the Vice Chancellor and the petitioner could not, as a matter of right, claim he should be permitted to continue as HoD.
The court issued the order on the petition filed by Prasad Pannian, the associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature of the University, seeking to quash the suspension order against him.
The court noted posting on Facebook or other social media platforms had became a matter of concern for public authorities. “It is a matter of formulation of an opinion of others. As pointed out by the court in several judgments, in the absence of any social media guidelines, such post has to be viewed to find out whether it would be detrimental to the collective interest of the university. The expression of opinion of a teacher in regard to an action cannot be considered as criticism,” it said.
“A look at the FB post shows the petitioner was sympathising with a student who has to undergo such pain and trauma of criminalisation of his act. What would constitute misconduct would depend upon the nature of criticism or comment,” it said.
The suspension order had stated he criticised CUK’s decisions and published his comments on social media over the legal action the varsity took against Ganthoti Nagaraju, a PhD student of the varsity.
The petitioner submitted he had sympathised with the student who was arrested. He was of the view the matter should have been settled on the campus itself and should not have resulted in the criminalization of such student, he submitted.
—India Legal Bureau