On October 16, the Group of Experts on Privacy, Chaired by Mr. A. P. Shah, submitted its Report to the Planning Commission. The Expert Group was appointed to set out the principles that Indian privacy law should abide by. Even though privacy has been held to be a fundamental right as long back as in 1962, India does not have a law that specifies safeguards to privacy. Moreover, recent government initiatives, such as the UID, involve collection of personal information and storage in electronic form. The absence of a law on privacy increases the risk to infringement of the fundamental right. In this blog we list the recommendations made by the expert group, discuss the status of the right to privacy in India, and why there is a need for an enactment. Recommendations of the Expert Group on Privacy
Present status of the Right to Privacy While the Supreme Court has held privacy to be a fundamental right, it is restricted to certain aspects of a person’s life. These aspects include the privacy of one’s home, family, marriage, motherhood, procreation and child-rearing. Therefore, to claim privacy in any other aspect, individuals have to substantiate these are ‘private’ and should not be subjected to state or private interference. For instance, in 1996 petitioners had to argue before the Court that the right to speak privately over the telephone was a fundamental right. Risks to privacy Government departments collect data under various legislations. For instance, under the Passport Act, 1967 and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 persons have to give details of their address, date of birth etc. These enactments do not provide safeguards against access and use of the information by third parties. Similarly, information regarding ownership of property and taxes paid are publicly available on the MCD website. Furthermore, recent government initiatives may increase the risk to infringement of privacy as personal information, previously only available in physical form, will now be available electronically. Initiatives such as the National e-Governance Plan, introduced in 2006 and Aadhaar would require maintenance of information in electronic form. The Aadhaar initiative aims at setting up a system for identifying beneficiaries of government sponsored schemes. Under the initiative, biometric details of the beneficiaries, such as retina scan and fingerprints, are collected and stored by the government. The government has also introduced a Bill in Parliament creating a right to electronic service delivery. As per news reports, a draft DNA Profiling Bill is also in the pipeline.
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.