The Left Democratic Front government in Kerala is bringing a Bill to remove the Governor, Arif Mohammed Khan, as the Chancellor of State-run universities after repeated run-ins with him. On Monday, Mr. Khan, signalling his intent to stall any such legislation, asserted that the post of Chancellor was bestowed on the Governor by way of a ‘national consensus’, which State governments are powerless to challenge. It is likely that he would sit on the Bill, just as he has put aside the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Act, 2022, and the University Laws (Amendment) Act, 2022. Mr. Khan chose to put on notice Vice-Chancellors (VC) of 11 of Kerala’s universities last month, shortly after the Supreme Court of India set aside the appointment of the VC to the A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technological University on the grounds that it had flouted University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations that prescribed that the search committee, constituted in line with UGC Regulations, recommends a panel of at least three candidates to the Chancellor. Last week, the Kerala High Court pulled the plug on the appointment of the VC to the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, objecting to the composition of the search committee and its recommendation of a single name to the VC’s post. The contention that it was an ‘agricultural university’ where UGC norms would not apply failed to find traction with the court. An appeal is in the apex court now.
These rulings point to the immediate need for Kerala to review the statutes governing individual universities in the State recognised under Section 12(B) of the UGC Act of 1956 and bring them in line with the UGC Regulations given that the Supreme Court has upheld their prevailing over the provisions of State University Acts. Legal questions on the preponderance of the UGC norms in the administration of specific universities such as an agricultural university are something for the courts to settle. But recriminations over these appointments have lowered the standards of public discourse. Read alongside his diatribes against an elected government and ad hominem attacks on its Chief Minister, Mr. Khan’s intransigent use of his constitutional authority to gun for VCs smacks of political interests and does not pass the test of federal principles enshrined in the Constitution. If anything, the public row and the spate of litigation have marred the functioning of universities as evident from the administrative impasse at the A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technological University, where the appointment of a temporary VC by the Governor has been challenged in court. Meanwhile, fresh graduates are worried about getting their degree certificates. At stake is the interest of students seeking higher education.