As of April 22, 2020, Sikkim does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of April 21, 2020, 87 samples have been sent for testing from Sikkim. Of these, 80 have tested negative for COVID-19, and the results of seven samples are awaited. The state has announced several policy decisions to prevent the spread of the virus and provide relief for those affected by it. In this blog post, we summarise some of the key measures taken by the Sikkim state government in this regard as of April 22, 2020.
Response before national lockdown
On March 16, the state government responded to the growing number of suspected cases in India by notifying certain directions to be applicable till April 15, 2020. These included: (i) banning the entry of all domestic and foreign tourists in to the state, (ii) closing all educational institutes and anganwadis, (iii) prohibiting the use of recreational facilities such as, casinos, gym, and cinemas, (iii) closing three out of five check posts (border opening) for all visitors in to the state and opening the other two only for medical and police teams, and (iv) banning private industries from getting migrant workers from outside the state and avoiding large concentration of workers at one place.
On March 19, assembly of more than five people was prohibited in the state until April 15, 2020. The government ordered the suspension of all non-essential work on March 19. The supply of all essential commodities such as food grains, vegetables, sanitisers and masks was allowed. Further, the formation of a sub-divisional task force to detect suspected cases was ordered.
On March 22, the government regulated intra-state movement of private vehicles, two-wheelers and taxis on an odd-even basis (allowing plying of vehicles on alternate days as per the number plate) until April 15, 2020. The government also reduced the budget session of the state to two days on March 23.
On March 25, the central government announced on a 21-day country-wide lockdown till April 14. During the lockdown the state government took various steps for physical containment, health, financial and welfare measures. These are detailed below.
Measures taken during lockdown
Certain movement restrictions were put across the state. These include:
Essential Goods and Services
On April 5, the state government issued an order requiring establishments such as shops, hotels, private offices, and commercial establishments to remain closed until April 15. Establishments which were permitted to remain functional include law enforcement agencies, health services, electricity and water services, petrol pumps, and media. Shops for PDS, groceries, vegetables, milk and, medicines were only allowed remain open from 9 am to 4 pm.
On March 31, the Sikkim government identified and set up dedicated isolation wards and treatment centres in the STNM hospital, Sochakgang as a precautionary measure. The government also issued directions for citizens to avoid getting infected by coronavirus. These included social distancing, and maintaining proper hygiene.
On April 18, the state government made it mandatory for all the public, students, teachers, and government employees, to install the Aarogya Setu application. The government of India launched a mobile app called ‘Aarogya Setu’ to enable people to assess the risk of catching COVID-19 on April 2, 2020. The app uses Bluetooth and Global Positioning System (GPS) based device location for contact tracing in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Certain relaxations after 20th April
On April 14, the nation-wide lockdown was further extended till May 3, 2020. On April 15, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines outlining select activities which will be permitted from April 20 onwards. These activities include health services, agriculture related activities, certain financial sector activities, operation of Anganwadis, MNREGA works, and cargo movement. Further, subject to certain conditions, commercial and private establishments, industrial establishments, government offices, and construction activities will also be permitted. The Sikkim government took the following steps in the same line.
For more information on the spread of COVID-19 and the central and state government response to the pandemic, please see 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.