In the run up to the Budget session of Parliament, the Cabinet has decided to accept some of the key recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011. The Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, was referred to a Select Committee by the Rajya Sabha. The Select Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill a year later in November 2012. At the Cabinet meeting held on January 31, 2013, the government has accepted some of these recommendations (see here for PRS comparison of the Bill, Select Committee recommendations and the approved amendments). Key approved amendments Lokayuktas: One of the most contentious issues in the Lokpal debate has been the establishment of Lokayuktas at the state level. The Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha gave a detailed structure of the Lokayuktas. However, the Committee was of the opinion that while each state has to set up a Lokayukta within a year of the Act coming into force, the nature and type of the Lokayuktas should be decided by the states. The Cabinet has agreed with the suggestion of the Committee. Inclusion of NGOs: Currently, “public servant” is defined in the Indian Penal Code to include government officials, judges, employees of universities, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc. The Bill expanded this definition by bringing societies and trusts which receive donations from the public (over a specified annual income) and, organizations which receive foreign donations (over Rs 10 lakh a year) within the purview of the Lokpal. The Committee had however objected to the inclusion of organisations that receive donations from the public on the ground that bodies such as a rotary club or a resident’s welfare association may also be covered under the Lokpal. Bringing such entities within the Lokpal’s purview would make it unmanageable. The Cabinet decided not to accept this recommendation stating that this view had been accepted by the Standing Committee while examining the version of the Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha. However, the government has exempted trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act. Procedure of inquiry and investigation: A key recommendation of the Committee was to allow the Lokpal to directly order an investigation if a prima facie case existed (based on the complaint received). The Cabinet has accepted this suggestion but suggested that the Lokpal should, before deciding that a prima facie case exists, call the public servant for a hearing. An investigation should be ordered only after hearing the public servant. Also, the Cabinet has not accepted the recommendation of the Committee that a public servant should be allowed a hearing only at the end of the investigation before filing the charge-sheet and not at any of the previous stages of the inquiry. Power to grant sanction: One of the key reasons cited for delays in prosecuting corrupt public officials is the requirement of a sanction from the government before a public servant can be prosecuted. The Bill shifts the power to grant sanction from the government to the Lokpal. It states that the investigation report shall be considered by a 3-member Lokpal bench before filing a charge-sheet or initiating disciplinary proceedings against the public servant. The Committee recommended that at this point both the competent authority (to whom the public servant is responsible) and the concerned public servant should be given a hearing. This has been accepted by the Cabinet. Reforms of CBI: There are divergent views over the role and independence of the CBI. The Committee made several recommendations for strengthening the CBI. They include: (a) the appointment of the Director of CBI will be through a collegium comprising of the PM, Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India; (b) the power of superintendence over CBI in relation to Lok Pal referred cases shall vest in the Lokpal; (c) CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal will be transferred with the approval of the Lokpal; and (d) for cases referred by the Lokpal, the CBI may appoint a panel of advocates (other than government advocates) with the consent of the Lok pal. All the recommendations regarding the CBI has been accepted by the Cabinet except one that requires the approval of the Lokpal to transfer officers of CBI investigating cases referred by the Lokpal. Eligibility of Lokpal member: According to the Bill, any person connected with a political party cannot be a member of the Lokpal. The Committee’s recommendation was to change the term connected to affiliated to remove any ambiguity about the meaning. This suggestion was accepted by the government. Now the interesting question is what happens if the Rajya Sabha passes the Bill with these amendments. The Bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha for its approval since new amendments were added by the Rajya Sabha. If the Lok Sabha passes these amendments, the office of the Lokpal may finally see the light of day. (See here for PRS analysis of the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011).
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.