Elections to the 13th Legislative Assembly of Gujarat are scheduled to be held in two phases on the 13th and 17th of December. The BJP has been the dominant majority party in the Assembly since 1995. The 2002 elections saw the largest victory for the party, winning 127 seats. The Congress last held power in Gujarat in 1985. In the Assembly elections held for the the seventh Assembly, the Congress had a clear majority of 149 seats. In 1990, the Janata Dal emerged as the largest party with 70 seats. The BJP registered major gains in 1990, improving their tally of 11 seats in 1985 to 67 seats. The Congress came third with 33 seats. The electoral trends over the last 22 years may be viewed here. In the current Assembly, 117 of the 182 seats are held by the BJP. It is useful to look at the work done by the 12th Gujarat Assembly during its term from 2008 to 2012. Here we look at key metrics like the number of days the assembly was in session, members’ attendance, and legislative business. Performance of the Assembly During its five year term, the assembly sat for a total of 157 days – an average of 31 days each year. In comparison, the Lok Sabha sat for an average of 66 days each year during the period 2008 to 2011. In the same period the Kerala Assembly sat for an average of 50 days – highest among states - followed by Maharashtra (44). However, the Gujarat Assembly sat for more number of days than the Haryana Assembly which sat for an average of 13 days and Rajasthan (24). The average attendance among Gujarat MLAs stood at 83% for the whole term, with two members registering 100% attendance. 87 Bills were passed by the Assembly since the beginning of its term in 2008 till September 2011. Of these, 80 Bills i.e. over 90% of all Bills were passed on the same day as they were introduced. None of the Bills were referred to any Committee. In the Budget Session of 2011, 31 Bills were passed of which 21 were introduced and passed within three sitting days Amendments sought by the President and the Governor One of the significant laws passed by the 12th Assembly was the Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Bill, 2003 which was introduced and passed in July 2009. However the Bill did not receive the Presidents Assent and was sent back to the Gujarat Assembly for amendments. In December 2009, the assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill 2009 which sought to make voting compulsory in elections to local self-government bodies like municipal corporations and Panchayats. The Gujarat governor returned the Bill for reconsideration in 2010. It was re-introduced in the house in September 2010 without changes. Another Bill that was returned by the Governor was the Gujarat Regularisation of Unauthorised Development Bill which sought to regularise unauthorised construction on payment of an Impact Fee. The Bill was passed by the Assembly in March 2011. The Governor returned the Bill with a suggestion to include a provision to bar the regularisation of unauthorised construction beyond a specified date. The Bill was re-introduced and passed with amendments by the Assembly in September 2011.
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.