In a recent judgement (Judgement on Feb 23 - Baldev Singh and Ors. V. State of Punjab), the Supreme Court reduced the sentence of three persons convicted of rape from 10 years to 3 and a half years, and also asked the three convicts to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 each to the victim. In reducing the sentence, the court drew from the provision in S. 376 (punishment for rape) of the Indian Penal Code which allows the court to reduce the sentence for "adequate and special reasons". There have been a number of past cases where the Supreme Court has reversed High Court decisions reducing sentences under this provision for not giving suitable reasons. In 2007, the Supreme Court struck down a decision of the Karnataka High Court which had reduced the sentence of a convicted rapist to 3 and a half years. The High Court had stated that the sentence should be reduced since the accused was "a young boy of 18 years belonging to Vaddara Community and Illiterate". The Supreme Court stated that there is a legislative mandate to impose a sentence for not less than 10 years. Only in exceptional cases, for "adequate and special reasons" can a sentence less than 10 years be imposed. It overturned the Karnataka High Court decision saying that there was an "absence of any reason which could have been treated as "special and adequate reason"". In Baldev Singh's case, the Supreme Court said: 1. The fact that the incident is an old one (the incident took place in 1997) is a circumstance which fits into "adequate and special reasons" for reducing a sentence. 2. The parties have entered into a compromise among themselves. The issue is whether this judgement has gone beyond the legislative mandate, and whether it has adhered to the principles laid down by earlier decisions of the Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court itself stated that for a crime like rape, strong reasons have to be given to reduce the sentence envisaged by the legislature. Moreover, the provision does not envisage the settlement of a crime by payment of compensation to the victim of a crime. A criminal act is seen in law as a crime against the whole of society (which is why the state's prosecution agency, and not the victim, goes to court against alleged criminals). Therefore, criminal actions such as rape (or murder, robbery, kidnapping etc.) cannot be "settled" by the payment of compensation under the Indian Penal Code. In this light, it should be interesting to see whether the State files an appeal against this judgement.
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.