Explained: Bengal passes Bill replacing Governor with CM as state … – The Indian Express

The West Bengal Assembly on Monday (June 13) passed a Bill paving the way for making the Chief Minister the Chancellor of universities run by the state government, replacing the Governor from the position.
The move by the Mamata Banerjee government has once again brought to the fore similar disputes playing out in Opposition-ruled states such as  Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which too have curtailed the authority enjoyed by Governors as Chancellors.
What is the latest development in West Bengal about?
On Monday, the state Legislative Assembly passed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to replace the Governor, Jagdeep Dhankhar, with the CM as the Chancellor of state-run universities. Ironically, the Bill will become law only after it receives Dhankar’s assent.
The government has indicated that even if Dhankhar — who has had a rocky relationship with the Chief Minister — sits on the Bill, an ordinance might be brought to implement the proposal. But that again would be a stop-gap arrangement as ordinances, which can only be brought when the  legislature is not in session, cease to operate on the expiry of six weeks from the reassembly of the state legislature.
What options does Dhankhar have?
Dhankhar may give his assent to the Bill, or withhold assent, or send it back to the Assembly for reconsideration. But if the Assembly passes the Bill again, with or without amendments, and sends it back, the Governor will be left with no option but to give his assent.
There is a fourth alternative too available to the Governor. He may reserve the Bill for the consideration of the President of India. Instead of giving his assent, the President has the option to direct the Governor to send it back to the Assembly for reconsideration. The Assembly may reconsider and send it back with or without changes. But even in that case, the President may choose to withhold his assent, as the Constitution does not impose any time limit on him to take decisions in such cases.
What powers do Governors enjoy as Chancellors?
The appointment of Vice-Chancellors in state government-run universities is among the responsibilities of Governors as Chancellors. Chancellors in most states have the power to annul decisions of the decision-making bodies of universities such as the Executive Council, and to make appointments to these bodies.
They also enjoy the power to preside over the convocation of universities.
In some states, however, Governors have little or no say in appointing VCs despite holding the post of Chancellor. In Telangana and Gujarat, Governors have no option but to appoint VCs from among the names approved by the state governments.
The Gujarat University Act, 1949 states that “the Vice-Chancellor shall be appointed by the State Government from amongst three persons recommended by a (search-cum-selection) committee”.
The Telangana Universities Act, 1991 states that the search committee shall “submit a panel of three persons to the Government in alphabetical order and the Government shall appoint the Vice-Chancellor from out of the said panel”.
How are similar disputes playing out in other states?
While no attempt has been made to officially designate the CM as Chancellor in any other state, Tamil Nadu in April passed two Bills that seek to transfer the power of the Governor to appoint VCs of 13 state universities to the state government, which is currently run by the DMK.
The Bills seeking to amend the process of appointment of VCs in the state universities underline that “every appointment of the Vice-Chancellor shall be made by the Government from out of a panel of three names” recommended by a search-cum-selection committee.
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What about Maharashtra and Kerala, two other states ruled by the Opposition?
Last December, the Maharashtra Assembly had cleared a Bill that seeks to amend the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016 by slicing the Governor’s role in appointing VCs.  Under the unamended Act, the state government has no say in the appointment of VCs. But if the changes cleared by the Assembly take effect, the Governor will be given two names to choose from by the state government, which is currently run by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition, following the suggestions of a panel.
In Left-ruled Kerala, the appointment of the VC of Kannur University became a flashpoint with the Governor alleging that it was done against his wishes. The BJD government in Odisha has also tried to bring appointments to state universities under its control. But it has been challenged by the University Grants Commission (UGC).
What do UGC norms suggest?
Firstly, education comes under the Concurrent List, which contains subjects on which both the Centre and the states can legislate. However, Entry 66 of the Union List — “coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions” — gives the Centre substantial authority over higher education.
The UGC plays that standard-setting role, even in the case of appointments, in the case of universities and colleges. According to the UGC (Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and other Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education) Regulations, 2018, the “visitor/chancellor”, which is mostly the Governor in states, shall appoint the VC out of the panel of names recommended by the search-cum-selection committees.
Higher educational institutions, particularly those which receive funds from the UGC, are mandated to follow its regulations. These are followed without any hitch in the case of central universities. However, in the case of state universities, such a top down approach by central government bodies is resisted by the states, especially where non-BJP or non-NDA allies are in power.
What about central universities?
While passing the Bill, the West Bengal government cited the example of Visva-Bharati University where the Prime Minister plays the role of the Chancellor. But Visva-Bharati, which is a central university, is an exception. The Central Universities Act, 2009, lays down that the President of India shall be the Visitor of a Central University.
With their role limited to presiding over convocations, Chancellors in central universities are titular heads, who are appointed by the President in his capacity as Visitor. The VCs are also appointed by the Visitor from panels of names picked by search and selection committees formed by the Union government.
The Act adds that the President, as Visitor, shall have the right to authorise inspections of academic and non-academic aspects of the universities and also to institute inquiries.
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Has the judiciary made any observations on such disputes in the past?
The Supreme Court had in March made some pertinent — though unrelated to the current dispute — observations while setting aside the appointment of the VC of Gujarat’s SP University by the state government.
A Bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna said that “any appointment as a Vice Chancellor contrary to the provisions of the UGC Regulations can be said to be in violation of the statutory provisions, warranting a writ of quo warranto.”
It said that every subordinate legislation of the UGC, in this case the one on minimum standards on appointments, flows from the parent UGC Act, 1956. “Therefore, being a subordinate legislation, UGC Regulations become part of the Act. In case of any conflict between State legislation and Central legislation, Central legislation shall prevail by applying the rule/principle of repugnancy as enunciated in Article 254 of the Constitution as the subject ‘education’ is in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution,” the top court had ruled.
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