Kerala joins TN, Bengal, Rajasthan in bid to curb Governor’s powers

West Bengal, TN Bills to curtail Raj Bhavan’s powers in higher education have been stymied by Governors’ refusal to sign them

Published - November 10, 2022 09:02 am IST - NEW DELHI

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

By proposing an ordinance which would replace the Governor with eminent academicians in the post of university Chancellor, the Left Democratic Front Government in Kerala has formally joined the club of Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and West Bengal, other Opposition-ruled States who have brought legislations curbing Raj Bhavan’s role in higher education institutions. Under the previous Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, a similar experiment was done in Maharashtra too in 2021.

The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 was an attempt by the Mamata Banerjee government to appoint the Chief Minister as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the State, replacing the Governor. The then-Governor and current Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar returned the Bill to the State Cabinet.

The Tamil Nadu Assembly has passed two Bills curtailing the power of the Governor in appointing Vice-Chancellors for State-run universities. The State government is on the warpath with Governor R.N. Ravi over the Bills, as he is yet to sign them. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies have now approached President Droupadi Murmu against the Governor.

The MVA government in Maharashtra had also amended the existing laws to limit the Chancellor’s role in appointing Vice-Chancellors. However, the present government is against it.

The Rajasthan State Funded Universities Bill was an attempt to vest the power to appoint Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors with the Chief Minister, making the Governor the Visitor of all State-run universities instead. The AAP government in Punjab has also been mulling a legislation to remove the Governor as the Chancellor of all State-run universities.

In a statement, the Kerala Cabinet said it had decided to recommend to the Governor to promulgate an ordinance providing for the appointment of eminent academicians to the post of Chancellor. “The ordinance is to amend the University Rules on the matter relating to the position of Chancellor of the 14 universities of the State. It has been recommended to issue an ordinance by removing the section that the Governor shall also be the Chancellor by virtue of his title and replacing the section in the draft ordinance,” it said.

State subject

Talking to The Hindu, Kerala Law Minister P. Rajeeve said that the Cabinet’s decision was based on the recommendations of the Punchhi Commission. “Under entry 32 of the Constitution, universities are a State subject. The State Cabinet has the power to bring an ordinance on this matter. The University Grants Commission decides the quality of the universities, but its rules are silent on the role of Chancellors. So the State’s law will prevail and there is no conflict,” said Mr. Rajeeve.

He noted that in universities such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Univeristy and the Aligarh Muslim University, the system to appoint Chancellors was different. “Here, there is a method to use Governors to control higher education in the country by the Centre. We will resist it using existing laws,” Mr. Rajeeve added.

He said that the Commissions appointed by the State Government on higher education reforms had also recommended that the post of Governor-Chancellor should be avoided. “The Cabinet meeting considered that it would be beneficial to have persons with expertise in the field of higher education at the helm of the universities to formulate a long-term perspective to transform Kerala’s higher education centres into centres of excellence of international standards,” added the statement.

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