Nagpur: Slamming Nagpur University for its failure to come up with satisfactory reply on stopping pensionary benefits of former head of department of ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology, Pradeep Meshram, the Nagpur bench of Bombay high court directed it to release the benefits with immediate effect.
The NU had stopped Meshram’s pensionary benefits following TOI’s series of reports exposing how 2,633 artefacts and 224 Vakataka-Vishnukundin era coins had gone missing from the department’s museum, when he was the HoD. Though NU lodged a police complaint after TOI’s reports nailing its officials for delay, it hadn’t named Meshram directly. Instead, it accused an “unknown person” for the theft that rocked NU about two years back.
A division bench comprising Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice Arun Upadhye directed the NU to process and sanction petitioner’s pensionary benefits from June 1, 2016, within three months. In case of failure, NU would pay 12% interest on the entire dues.
“NU seems to have lost its authority now to institute such proceedings. If it’s a case of theft of coins, it’s open for the authorities to institute appropriate proceedings by setting in motion the criminal law. We don’t find any justifiable reason for withholding petitioner’s pensionary benefits in such factual background,” the judges observed.
After NU stopped his pension last year, Meshram, through counsel Bhanudas Kulkarni, moved HC contending that after his retirement on May 31, 2016, his retirement benefits were deliberately withheld without any concrete reasons. He argued that only a complaint was lodged at Ambazari police station, but no progress was made since then. He pointed out that neither departmental enquiry (DE) was initiated against him nor any notice was issued in this regard.
NU standing counsel Purushottam Patil countered his arguments stating that Meshram was HoD from September 29, 2004, to December 10, 2013, during which 224 antique coins had gone missing along with other artefacts. He pointed out to an acknowledgement from Meshram regarding receipt of those coins on February 14, 2005, from Vandana Khedikar, working with the same department.
“We put a specific question to NU as to under which provisions of law the pensionary and retirement benefits can be withheld. The university counsel is unable to answer the question and point out any such provision. Prior to attaining the age of superannuation, no action was taken and thereafter, till this date, no departmental proceedings have been initiated,” the judges said before allowing Meshram’s plea.
On March 31, 2016, TOI had first reported about the coins going missing and a day later, it highlighted how the 2014 report of fact-finding committee led by then divisional commissioner Anoop Kumar too had gone missing. In a series of reports, the newspaper had exposed on how precious coins and artefacts worth crores in international market were stolen from the NU museum and how NU top brass were allegedly trying to save the culprits by not filing the FIR.