Cabinet approves Bill to remove Governor as Chancellor of State universities

Bill proposes supplanting the Governor with eminent academicians as Chancellors of various universities. The Bill, if passed, will negate the Governor’s watchdog role in university administration and accord the government more leeway in appointing Chancellors of its choice

November 30, 2022 07:41 pm | Updated December 01, 2022 07:47 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Arif Mohammed Khan.

Arif Mohammed Khan. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Cabinet on Wednesday approved the draft Bill removing Governor Arif Mohammed Khan as Chancellor of the State universities after recurrent and politically charged run-ins with Raj Bhavan over matters relating to the administration of centres of higher learning.

Instead, the Bill proposes supplanting the Governor with eminent academicians as Chancellors of various universities. The Bill, if passed, will, at a stroke, negate the Governor’s watchdog role in university administration and accord the government more leeway in appointing Chancellors of its choice.

The proposed legislation also aspires to amend the statutes of 14 universities established by legislative Acts in Kerala. They are Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi, Kochi, Kozhikode, Kannur, Sankaracharya, Thunjathu Yezhuthachan Malayalam varsity, Kerala Digital University, Sree Narayana Guru Open University, Kerala Agriculture University, Kerala Veterinary Animal Sciences University, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Kerala Health University, and APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University (KTU).

The Bill caps a season of taut political theatre following the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the KTU Vice-Chancellor’s appointment. Mr. Khan had sought the resignations of 11 other Vice-Chancellors on the ground that the government had appointed them through the same process deemed unlawful by the apex court.

However, the government took a contrarian view and held it was legally anomalous to apply the Supreme Court ruling in an individual case broadly. The Governor’s delay in signing the University Laws (Amendment) Act 2022 was also a persistent sore point between Mr. Khan and the government.

The Governor’s “refusal” to promulgate an ordinance divesting him of the Chancellor’s powers had compelled the government to request him to convene the Assembly to introduce the executive order as a Bill.

The Cabinet also leaned on the M. M. Punchi Commission report that argued against empowering Governors as Chancellors. The Centre constituted the commission in 2007 to study Centre-State relations.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) has the numbers to pass the Bill in the Assembly. It also draws strength from moves by other non-Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States, including those helmed by the Congress, to introduce similar Bills curtailing the Governor’s power as Chancellor.

However, it might be rough sailing for the ruling front in the Assembly. A bipartisan approval for the Bill appears distant with the Congress indicating it will oppose the “mal intentioned legislation” to bend State varsities to the Communist Party of India (Marxist)‘s will. However, the Indian Union Muslim League seems to think differently. It might put its cards on the table only after the upcoming United Democratic Front meeting.

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