Anirudh and Chakshu Friday's issue of Indian Express carried an op-ed article by the Director of PRS on the issue of the re-establishment of the Legislative Council (upper house) in Tamil Nadu. The article (a) traces the history of the legislature in Tamil Nadu, (b) the efficacy of having upper houses in state legislatures, (c) arguments for and against having legislative councils in state legislatures, and looks at the larger issue of how efficiently state legislatures perform their expected role. General information on Legislative Councils in India: The Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad) of a state comprises not more than one-third of total number of members in legislative assembly of the state and in no case less than 40 members (Legislative Council of Jammu and Kashmir has 36 members vide Section 50 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir). Elections: (a) About 1/3rd of members of the council are elected by members of legislative assembly from amongst persons who are not its members, (b) 1/3rd by electorates consisting of members of municipalities, district boards and other local authorities in the state, (c) 1/12th by electorate consisting of persons who have been, for at least three years, engaged in teaching in educational institutions within the state not lower in standard than secondary school, and (d) one-twelfth by registered graduates of more than three years standing. Remaining members are nominated by Governor from among those who have distinguished themselves in literature, science, art, cooperative movement and social service. Legislative councils are not subject to dissolution but one-third of their members retire every second year. The points below provide more information on the Tamil nadu legislative Council: - The Government of India Act, 1935 established a bicameral legislature in the province of Madras. - May 14, 1986 [eigth assembly] the government moved a resolution for the dissolution of the Legislative Council. The resolution was passed. - The Tamil Nadu Legislative Council(Abolition) Bill, 1986 was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and received the assent of the president on the 30th August 1986. The Act came into force on the 1st November 1986. The Tamil Nadu Legislative Council was abolished with effect from the 1st November 1986. - February 20, 1989, [ninth Assembly] a Government Resolution seeking the revival of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council was moved and adopted by the house - The Legislative Council Bill, 1990 seeking the creation of Legislative Councils of the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh was introduced in Rajya Sabha on the 10th May 1990 and was considered and passed by the Rajya Sabha on the 28th May 1990. But the Bill could not be passed by the Lok Sabha. - October 4, 1991, [tenth Assembly] a Government Resolution was adopted in the Assembly to rescind the Resolution passed on the 20th February 1989 for the revival of the Legislative Council in the State of Tamil Nadu. - July 26, 1996, [eleventh Assembly], a Government Resolution seeking the revival of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council was moved and adopted by the house.
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.