Parliament passes an average of 60 Bills a year. Each state legislature also passes a similar volume of legislation addressing an array of complex issues. Bills cover subjects ranging from microfinance, land acquisition, and honour killings to the impact of pesticides on health. Legislative matters have become increasingly more technical and require specialist inputs to be framed as effective public policy. Unlike other large democracies, legislators in India do not have access to institutional research support. Access to formal information channels is normally available only to the Minister drafting the bill or to the select committee if the bill is referred to it. This deprives MLAs from participating in a more informed debate. Towards this end, PRS and the Indian School of Business (ISB) have initiated the first policy workshop of its kind for MLAs in India. There is an emerging breed of proactive MLAs who are willing to seek out information to help them perform their role better. There are over 4000 MLAs in India, and a small group of MLAs in many states are showing this initiative. They use the internet, consult specialists, and use resources like PRS to get updated or further information on issues affecting their state. About the Workshop The India Leadership workshop is for MLAs who want to be more effective legislators and assume positions of greater influence in state and national policymaking. This unique workshop is for rising stars who want to imbibe new approaches to policymaking and build professional networks with MLAs from different states. The programme is led by distinguished faculty from internally reputed institutions including Harvard, IITs and IIMs. The three day workshop for progressive MLAs will be held at the campus of ISB in Hyderabad. Four such sessions will be held during the year, with the maiden edition being launched in January 2011. Over the last five years, PRS has worked with MPs across all political parties to brief them on relevant issues for their work in Parliament. MPs have recommended that MLAs also would benefit from similar research services. Ajit Rangnekar, Dean, Indian School of Business (ISB) says, “The ISB is committed to working with the Industry and the Government to help achieve national goals. We already have had a long track of engaging with public sector enterprises, and more recently with various government departments, in both executive education and research. We are now delighted to partner with the PRS Legislative Research to develop this programme targeted at capacity building among Indian Legislators. We believe that this ongoing interaction between the government and academia will strengthen our collective understanding of national priorities and spur collaboration for greater impact.”
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.