In what may look like an apparent battle against university academics who are bestowed with the responsibility of educating the future generation, a recent Supreme Court order displayed how Colombo University, one of the leading education institutions, deprived an academic from rendering his service to the country.
In its decision the Supreme Court affirmed an order issued against Colombo University for its decision to treat the senior lecturer as having vacated his post who was made to be jobless for more than 10 years and forced not to continue with his academic career for a long period.
The SC affirmed the Appeal Court judgment in which Colombo University, its former Vice Chancellor and other authorities were criticized for allegedly acting over personal animosity against senior lecturer V.I.D.J.Perera and marked lack of consideration in arriving at a decision. The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Chandra Ekanayake, Priyasath Dep and Buwaneke Aluvihare directed the University Services Appeals Board (USAB) to comply with the earlier Appeal Court order given in favour of senior lecturer V.I.D.J.Perera within three months and also ordered the University to pay the cost of Rs 50,000 to him.
The senior lecturer of Colombo University, V.I.D.J.Perera in 2005 had filed a writ application before the Appeal Court challenging the dismissal of his appeal by USAB. He had appealed to the USAB against Colombo University’s decision to consider that he had vacated his post with effect from January 5, 2005. The USAB dismissed his appeal. He filed a petition in the Appeal Court citing the University, its former Vice Chancellor and the chairman of the Council of the University of Colombo, Prof. Tilak Hettiarachchi, USAB and Prof. Hiriburegama, Director IHRA, among others, as respondents. According to this petition, the senior lecturer who was attached to the Institute of Workers’ Education of the Colombo University had applied for one year sabbatical leave from July 2001 to June 2002 having served for 10 years there. He was to make use of his leave to complete a comparative study on the theme of “Impact of Mechanisation on the Labour Relations in the Sea Ports” which was to be carried out in three major sea ports viz port of New Castle, the UK, port of Kashima in Japan and the Colombo Port.
Having completed his first two months leave in the UK he had returned to Sri Lanka to continue his study at Colombo Port and opted to report to work at the University from September 2001. He was planning to make use of his remainder 10 months of sabbatical leave at a later stage.
However while he was continuing his academic work he was sent on compulsory leave from May 2003 on charges of misconduct in respect of an argument he had with the former Vice Chancellor and further disciplinary action was to be taken against him. Mr. Perera was awarded a 12 months research fellowship by Japan Foundation starting from August 10, 2004 and he had applied for his second term of sabbatical leave. However with repeated requests for permission to follow the fellowship which was not responded, he was left with the choice to leave the country on August 10. His second application for sabbatical leave which he applied on June 25, 2004 had only been tabled before the Council on August 11, the day after he left for Japan.
The Superior Courts had found that the behaviour of the senior University administration against the senior lecturer was deliberate and the leave paper was tabled only after he left the country.
The Appeal Court also referred to the conduct of the University authority stating “The application for a second term of sabbatical leave which was made on the 25th June 2004 had not been tabled before the council until 11th Aug 2004. It is blatantly apparent that there had been an undue delay in tabling the application and it is evident from the letter of the Deputy Registrar addressed to the council that had called for explanation from the relevant officials responsible for the delay.”
However while he was following the fellowship in Japan the University had informed Mr. Perera to report for duty on January 5 and as he was unable to do so he was informed that it was considered he had vacated his post. The petitioner appealed to the USAB but his appeal was dismissed in 2006 and he filed a writ application before the Appeal Court.
At the end of five years of hearing, the Appeal Court quashed the USAB’s decision and had noted that the USAB has displayed a marked lack of consideration in arriving at the said decision. The Appeal Court observed that the petitioner had at no time attempted to depart and he had determinedly strived to obtain permission from the university authorities.
The court had further indicated that although the petitioner was qualified to apply for a second term of sabbatical leave, the petitioner had a lengthy wait, for approval to be granted. Due to the silence from the leave granting authority subsequent to the communication of two reminders, the petitioner was left with a Hobson’s choice.
The Appeal Court bench comprising Justice S. Sriskandarajah and D. S. C. Lecamwasam in their 2010 judgment observed eventually that Mr. Perera seemed to be compelled to take a decision, lest not only the petitioner but also the country would have been deprived of the benefits of the fellowship offered by Japan. While quashing the decision of the USAB, the Appeal Court directed the USAB to go into the merits of the case and to make an appropriate order. Instead of acting on the Appeal Court order, the University Council had filed an appeal at the Supreme Court against the said order in 2010. After hearing the case for over five years, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal recently affirming the order given by the Appeal Court.
In its order the Supreme Court bench observed that “the whole scenario has been designed and the manner in which the officials of the appellant university had acted in this instance cannot be condoned by any measure”.
The Supreme Court directed the USAB to comply with the earlier Appeal Court order given in favour of the senior lecturer within three months. The SC had to refer Mr. Perera’s case back to the USAB as the issue had come up as an appeal against the Appeal Court judgment by the university but not by the lecturer.