Bihar became the first state to scrap the MLA Local Area Development Fund scheme (MLALAD). According to news reports, Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s Chief Minister, is planning to replace it with the CM Area Development Programme, which would be implemented at the District level. The schemes would be selected by a district selection committee headed by the minister-in-charge and MLAs and MLCs of that district as members. The implementation shall rest with a body of engineers, headed by Engineer-in-chief. The district magistrates would only monitor implementation and contractors would be chosen through open tendering in which a representative of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) would be present. The state government would allocate funds as per requirement. The MPLAD and MLALAD scheme was introduced in December 1993 by former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao to enable legislators to execute small works of a local nature to meet the urgent needs of their constituents. Under the scheme, each legislator may identify projects and sanction upto Rs 2 crore per year for public works in their constituencies. The scheme was mooted after MPs demanded that they should be able to recommend certain development projects in their constituencies. The projects include assets building such as drinking water facilities, primary education, public health sanitation and roads. The initial amount allocated was Rs 5 lakh per year to each MP. It has however not been smooth sailing for the scheme. Besides the many implementation lapses (as pointed out by the Standing Committee on Finance in 1998-1199, the CAG and the Planning Commission), the constitutionality of the scheme has been questioned by various scholars and experts. In 2002, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommended immediate discontinuation of the MPLAD scheme on the ground that it was inconsistent with the spirit of federalism and distribution of powers between the centre and the state. Former MP, Era Sezhiyan in a booklet titled ‘MPLADS – Concept, Confusion and Contradictions’ also opposed the scheme and recommended that it be scrapped since it ran contrary to the Constitutional provisions which envisaged separate roles for the Executive and Legislature. However, the Committee on MPLADS in its 13th Report and its 15th Report stated that there was nothing wrong with the scheme per se except some procedural infirmities and recommended among other things a change of nomenclature to the Scheme for Local Area Development. The debate continued with the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission’s report on “Ethics in Governance” taking a firm stand against the scheme arguing that it seriously erodes the notion of separation of powers, as the legislator directly becomes the executive. However, in response to a Writ Petition that challenged the constitutionality of the MPLAD scheme as ultra vires of the Constitution of India, in May 2010, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that there was no violation of the concept of separation of powers because the role of an MP in this case is recommendatory and the actual work is carried out by the Panchayats and Municipalities which belong to the executive organ. There are checks and balances in place through the guidelines which have to be adhered to and the fact that each MP is ultimately responsible to the Parliament. Meanwhile, some MPs are pushing for hiking the amount allocated under the scheme to Rs 5 crore. However, no decision has been reached yet. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has suggested that a single parliamentary committee be formed comprising of members of both Houses of Parliament to monitor MPLAD schemes. While the question of constitutionality of the MPLAD scheme may have been put to rest by the Supreme Court ruling, other issues related to implementation of the scheme still remain. Unless problems such as poor utilisation of funds, irregular sanction of works, delay in completion of works are tackled in an efficient manner, the efficacy of the scheme will remain in doubt.
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.