(Authored by Anil Nair) Many states in the Indian Union have instituted the post of Parliamentary Secretary. A Parliament Secretary often holds the rank of Minister of State and has the same entitlements and is assigned to a government department. Manipur, HP, Mizoram, Assam, Rajasthan, Punjab, Goa are some of the states where MLAs have been appointed Parliament Secretaries by the Government. PILs filed in various High Courts on the matter have argued that the appointment of Parliament Secretaries is ultra vires the 91st Amendment of the Indian Constitution which introduced Article 164 (1A) to the Constitution. Article 164 (1A) provides for limiting the number of ministers in the state cabinets. The total number of ministers including the Chief Minister, has to be within 15 per cent of the total number of members of the legislative assembly of the state. Article 164 (1A) was inserted in the Constitution on the recommendation of the National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution headed by former Chief Justice of India, M.N. Venkatachaliah on misuse and drainage of public money to put a ban on over-sized cabinet. Various High Courts have deemed the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries unconstitutional and have ruled against such appointments often in the past. In 2009, in the case of Adv. Aires Rodrigues vs The State of Goa and others (as cited in Anami Narayan Roy vs. Union of India), a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court discussed the impact of arbitrary State action relating to appointment of Parliament Secretaries in Goa. It held that appointing Parliamentary Secretaries of the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister is in violation to Article 164 (1A) of the Constitution and set aside the appointment of two Parliamentary Secretaries in the state government. In 2005, in Citizen Rights Protection Forum vs Union of India and Others (decided on 18 August, 2005), the Himachal Pradesh High Court quashed the appointment of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliament Secretaries. It held that ‘(Parliamentary Secretaries) are usurpers of public office since their appointments did not owe their origin to any constitutional or legal provision, they having been appointed by person(s) not vested with the power of appointment’. Recently, newspapers have reported that the Rajasthan High Court issued notices to thirteen Parliamentary Secretaries in a petition challenging their appointments. Similarly, there have been news reports that the Punjab High Court has asked the state governments in Punjab and Haryana to provide information on appointment of Chief Parliamentary Secretaries in the states. Punjab and Haryana have appointed 20 and 11 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries respectively. The High Court has ordered the two states to submit details about the entitlements, facilities and powers given to the Chief Parliamentary Secretaries.
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.