By Rohit and Aakanksha In February this year, Bihar made it mandatory for its employees to declare their assets. The new guidelines prescribe that departmental proceedings would be initiated against those who fail to submit these details. Information filed by employees is now being displayed online. For instance, click here to see information put out by the Department of Agriculture. Some other states have also followed suit. Rajasthan became the second state to do so. Asset details of employees have been posted on the Department of Personnel website. MP and Meghalaya have announced their intention to implement similar changes. The central government too has decided to put the asset details of All India Service and other Group A officers in the public domain. Employees of the central government are governed by the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964. Under these rules, civil servants are required to file details of their assets on a periodic basis. However, until now the information provided by employees was held in a fiduciary capacity and kept confidential. With the new order coming in, this information will now be available to the public. To ensure compliance, the government has decided that defaulters should be denied vigilance clearance and should not be considered for promotion and empanelment for senior level positions. It is interesting that the Central Information Commission, in an earlier decision dated July 23rd 2009, had held that 'disclosure of information such as assets of a Public servant, which is routinely collected by the Public authority and routinely provided by the Public servants, cannot be construed as an invasion on the privacy of an individual. There will only be a few exceptions to this rule which might relate to information which is obtained by a Public authority while using extraordinary powers such as in the case of a raid or phone-tapping. Any other exceptions would have to be specifically justified. Besides the Supreme Court has clearly ruled that even people who aspire to be public servants by getting elected have to declare their property details. If people who aspire to be public servants must declare their property details it is only logical that the details of assets of those who are public servants must be considered to be disclosable. Hence the exemption under Section 8(1) (j) of RTI cannot be applied in the instant case.' For the Supreme Court judgement referred to in the above decision, click here. These are interesting developments, especially given the recent debate on corruption. Let's wait and see if other states follow Bihar's lead.
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.