In the aftermath of the nuclear leaks in Japan, there have been concerns regarding the safety of nuclear power plants around the world. There are some proposals to change the regulatory framework in India to ensure the safety of these plants. We examine some of the issues in the current structure. Which body looks at safety issues regarding nuclear power plants in the country? The apex institution tasked to look at issues regarding nuclear safety is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The AERB was set up in 1983 to carry out regulatory and safety functions regarding nuclear and radiation facilities. The agency has to give clearances for establishing nuclear power plants and facilities. It issues clearances for nuclear power projects in stages after safety reviews. The safety of setting up a nuclear plant in any given area is also assessed by the AERB. For example, it would have looked into the safety of setting up a nuclear power project in Jaitapur in Maharashtra. AERB also reviews the safety mechanisms within existing nuclear plants and facilities. To do this, it requires nuclear facilities to report their compliance with safety regulations, and also makes periodic inspections. Under the recently passed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 the AERB is also the authority responsible for notifying when a nuclear incident takes place. Mechanisms for assessing and claiming compensation by victims will be initiated only after the nuclear incident is notified. Why is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in the news? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on March 29, 2011, "We will strengthen the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and make it a truly autonomous and independent regulatory authority." This announcement came in the backdrop of the continuing crisis and high radiation levels at the Fukusima nuclear plant in Japan. News reports opined that the lack of proper autonomy of Japan's nuclear regulator curbed its effectiveness. Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry regulates the nuclear power industry, and also promotes nuclear technology. These two aims work at cross-purposes. India's regulatory structure is similar to Japan in some respects. What measures has the AERB taken post the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan? Following the nuclear incident in Japan, a high-level committee under the chairmanship of a former AERB chairman has been set up to review the safety of Indian nuclear power plants. The committee shall assess the capability of Indian nuclear power plants to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, floods, etc. The committee will review the adequacy of provisions for ensuring safety in case of such events. Is there any issue in the current regulatory structure? The AERB is a regulatory body, which derives administrative and financial support from the Department of Atomic Energy. It reports to the secreatry, DAE. The DAE is also involved in the promotion of nuclear energy, and is also responsible for the functioning of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which operates most nuclear power plants in the country. The DAE is thus responsible both for nuclear safety (through the AERB), as well as the operation of nuclear power plants (through NPCIL). This could be seen as a conflict of interest. How does the system of independent regulators differ from this? The telecom sector provides an example of an independent regulator. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India does not report to the Department of Telecommunications. The DoT is responsible for policy matters related to telecommunications, promoting private investment in telecom, and also has a stake in BSNL. Had TRAI reported to the DoT, there would have been a conflict of interest within the DoT. What will the proposed legislation change? Recent news reports have stated that a bill to create an independent regulatory body will be introduced in Parliament soon. Though there is no draft bill available publicly, news reports state that an independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India will be created by the bill, and the authority will subsume the AERB within it. This post first appeared as an article on rediff.com and can be accessed here.
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.