One of the main tasks of the Parliament is to frame laws through debate and discussion on the floor of the House. However, there have been repeated instances where Bills introduced by the government have been passed without substantive discussion (For news reports, click here and here). Even where Bills are debated extensively, occasions where the government introduces changes in the Bill directly as a response to Parliamentary debate are hard to find.
One recent exception is the list of amendments introduced to the National Green Tribunal Bill, 2010 by the Minister for Environment and Forests directly in response to issues raised on the floor of the House.
The National Green Tribunal Bill, 2009 aims to set up specialised environmental courts in the country. It will hear initial complaints as well as appeals from decisions of authorities under various environmental laws. The Tribunal shall consist of both judicial and expert members. Expert members have to possess technical qualifications and expertise, and also practical experience.
The Tribunal shall hear only ‘substantial question relating to the environment’. Substantial questions are those which (a) affect the community at large, and not just individuals or groups of individuals, or (b) cause significant damage to the environment and property, or (c) cause harm to public health which is broadly measurable.
PRS in its analysis of the original (unamended) Bill, had raised the following issues (for detailed analysis, clickhere) :
In the debate on the Bill in the Lok Sabha on April 21, 2010 a number of MPs raised substantive issues with respect to the Bill. Some of the issues raised were (From the news article quoted above):
1. The Bill fell short on parameters of “scope, efficiency, and access to justice”.
2. Setting up five benches while barring the jurisdiction of courts will “create huge distance for the poor community members and tribals to seek justice”.
3. Offenses under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Wildlife Protection Act will not be heard by the Tribunal.
4. “Section 15 puts an embargo against [persons] other than retired Judge of Supreme Court or Chief Justices of High Court. The other clause puts 15 years of administrative experience, which would open the path for packing the Tribunal with bureaucrats of the kind who did not enforce the environment related laws in their time in service.”
The Minister acknowledged the contribution of the members by stating that: “The members have made important suggestions. Even though their exact demands may not be part of the official amendments moved by the government… but I am open to their suggestions…I will remove all objectionable clauses or sections in the proposed law and keep the window of discussion open.”
The Minister’s response
In response to these issues, the Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh introduced 10 amendments to the Bill on April 30, 2010. Though not all the issues raised were addressed, a number of changes were made. In addition, the Minister also assured the House that issues regarding access would be addressed by the government by following a “circuit” approach for the benches of the Tribunal i.e. the benches would travel around the area within their jurisdiction to hear complaints. (To read the response, click here, page 15250)
Some of the main amendments are:
1. Now any aggrieved person can can approach the Tribunal. Earlier limited access was provided.
2. The whole Act will be operational by notification at the same time. Different provisions will not be enforced separately at different points of time.
3. There is a procedure for direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the judgement of the Tribunal.
4. The number of expert and judicial members is clearly specified.
In addition, the Minister also assured that the Selection Committee for picking the members of the Tribunal will be transparent and will ensure that members are not “a parking place for retired civil servants”.
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.