Court orders reinstatement of university officials

Buddhist and Pali University registrar and deputy registrar win long battle against JVP-backed student union
By Telles Anandappa

The Court of Appeal has ordered that the Registrar and the Deputy Registrar of the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka be reinstated in their posts, after a period of suspension and unpaid compulsory leave. The petitioners – Registrar R. A. Piyaratna and Deputy Registrar Gallage Jayatissa –– had been on compulsory unpaid leave from December 2006 after being suspended by the university following complaints and demonstrations against them by the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP)-backed student union.

The court has ordered that the petitioners be paid all outstanding emoluments for the period they were on unpaid compulsory leave, and that all disciplinary inquiries against them be dropped.

Initially, the petitioners were sent on compulsory paid leave in December 2006, but following pressure from the student union, they were put on compulsory leave without pay from March 2007.

In their appeal the petitioners cited the following as respondents: The Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka; the Minister of Higher Education, Wishwa Warnapala; the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education, Ven. Prof. Wegama Piyaratana Thera; the vice-chancellor of The Buddhist and Pali University, Ven. Ekeriyagala Nanda Thera; the Faculty of Buddhists Studies, and 13 others, including two university employees, K. W. Bandula and A. A. Navaratna.

The petitioners claimed that the Inter-University Students Union had falsely accused them of providing wrong information on student activities to the media, including a report on ragging on campus. The media had highlighted complaints from residents in the university neighbourhood of unruly behaviour on the part of the students, and a case of sexual harassment.

According to the petitioners, the student union had put pressure on the university’s vice-chancellor, Ven. Professor Wegama Thera. The petitioners claim the vice-chancellor should have held an inquiry into the students’ behaviour, not the petitioners’ actions. Six separate inquiries were ordered against the Registrar and the Deputy Registrar, who were duly exonerated in all six inquiries.

The Ministry of Education then appointed senior assistant secretary S. S. N. Silva to look into the student union allegations, and he too found no grounds for charges against the petitioners. Dissatisfied with the report, the students staged a demonstration demanding a further inquiry against the petitioners. Five more inquiries were conducted, and these too found no grounds for action against the petitioners.

In December 2006, the Ministry of Education put both petitioners on paid compulsory leave. The student union held a satyagraha, demanding that the petitioners be removed from their posts. In March 2007, the petitioners received letters from the university informing them that they were on compulsory leave without pay.

The petitioners then filed a writ in court challenging the university decision. They said the first respondent, the university, had promised not to interfere in the payment of their salaries. According to the petition, the vice-chancellor had made a request to the Minister of Higher Education to transfer the petitioners to other universities.

The petitioners said the student union had put pressure on the vice-chancellor to interdict the petitioners without payment. Attorney-at-Law W. D. Weeraratne appeared for the petitioners.

The Court of Appeal bench comprised President’s Counsels Chandra Ekanayake and Anil Gooneratne.

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