The last few months saw a number of allegations of corruption in issues such as contracts for the Commonwealth Games, allocation of 2G Spectrum, and the building of the Adarsh housing society. Professor Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Adviser to the Ministry of Finance, has proposed a modification in order to make the anti-corruption law in the country more effective. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 penalizes both bribe giving and taking. Bribe giving is punishable under the Act with imprisonment ranging between six months to five years. He argues that bribe giving should be legalized. Professor Basu distinguishes “harassment bribes”, which he defines as “bribes that people often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to” from the remaining, “Non-Harassment Bribes” which would involve illegal benefits accruing to the bribe giver at a potential cost to the public interest. He argues that legalization of harassment bribes would reduce the nexus between the giver (victim) and the taker of a bribe. Giving complete immunity to the bribe-giver would ensure higher reporting and co-operation of the giver in bringing to justice the bribe taker. The present law acts as a deterrent to reporting of bribery. Courts have also highlighted this issue. The High Court of Delhi in the Bharadwaaj Media Case (2007) observed that a “bribe giver is normally on the mercy of the officials and babus who compel him to pay bribe even for lawful work.” The Court further observed that “Instead of expressing gratefulness to the persons who expose corruption, if the institutions start taking action against those who expose corruption, corruption is bound to progress day and night.” It can be inferred from the judgement that steps ought to be taken to provide protection to those exposing bribery. The proposed legalization of bribe-giving may result in increased reporting of bribery and co-operation of the victim during prosecution. The fear that a bribe giver may report the public official could reduce corruption, at least in terms of harassment bribes. However, this proposal may reduce the stigma attached to bribe-giving and result in corrosion of morality. Much of the recent debate around corruption and the Lok Pal Bill revolve around effective prosecution. This paper looks at the incentive structure for reporting bribe-giving, and merits public debate.
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.