This article was published in the Indian Express on April 8, 2011
Dodging the Drafts
By Kaushiki Sanyal and C.V. Madhukar
Social activist, Anna Hazare’s fast unto death for the enactment of a strong Lok Pal Bill has provided an impetus to examine not only the Bill proposed by civil society activists but suggestions made by various experts.
The idea of establishing an authority where the citizen can seek redress against administrative acts of the government was first mooted in 1963 during a debate on Demands for Grants for the Law Ministry. Under the existing system, a citizen can either move court or seek other remedies such as petitioning his Member of Parliament. However, these remedies are limited because they maybe too cumbersome or specific grievances may not be addressed. Also, the laws that penalise corrupt officials do not have provision to redress specific grievances of citizens. Currently, corrupt public officials can be penalised under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Both these laws require the investigating agency to get prior sanction of the central or state government before it can initiate the prosecution process in a court.
The office of the Lok Pal or an Ombudsman seeks to provide a forum for citizens to complain against public officials. The Lok Pal would inquire into such complaints and provide some redressal to citizens. The basic idea of the institution of Lok Pal was borrowed from the concept of Ombudsman in countries such as Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, U.K. and New Zealand. Presently, about 140 countries have the office of the Ombudsman. In Sweden, Denmark and Finland, the office of the Ombudsman can redress citizens’ grievances by either directly receiving complaints from the public or suo moto. However, in the UK, the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner can receive complaints only through Members of Parliament (to whom the citizen can complain). Sweden and Finland also have the power to prosecute erring public servants.
The first Lok Pal Bill in India was introduced in 1968, which lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. The Bill was introduced seven more times in Parliament, the last time in 2001. Each time it lapsed except in 1985 when it was withdrawn.
Several commissions have examined the need for a Lok Pal and suggested ways to make it effective, without violating Constitutional principles. They include: the First Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) of 1966, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of 2002 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission of 2007. The Lok Pal Bills that were introduced were referred to various Parliamentary committees (the last three Bills were referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs).
The First ARC report recommended that two independent authorities be created to redress grievances: first, a Lok Pal, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of Ministers or secretaries of government at the centre and the state; and second, a Lokayukta in each state and at the centre, to deal with complaints against the administrative acts of other officials. Both these authorities should be independent of the executive, judiciary and legislature and shall be appointed by the President on advice of the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution urged that the Constitution should provide for the appointment of the Lok Pal and Lokayuktas in the states but suggested that the Prime Minister should be kept out of the purview of the authority.
The Second Administrative Commission, formed in 2005, also recommended that the office of the Lok Pal be established without delay. It was in favour of including Ministers, Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament. However, it wanted to keep the Prime Minister outside the Lok Pal’s ambit. The ARC also recommended that a reasonable time-limit for investigation of different types of cases should be fixed.
The 1996, 1998 and 2001 Bill covered Prime Minister and MPs. The Standing Committee examining the 1998 Bill recommended that the government examine two basic issues before going forward with the Bill: first, MPs are deemed to be public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. If they are also brought under the purview of Lok Pal it may be “tantamount to double jeopardy”; and second, subjecting MPs to an outside disciplinary authority may affect supremacy of Parliament.
The 2001 Bill was also referred to the Standing Committee, which accepted that the Prime Minister and MPs should be included in the Bill. It further recommended that a separate legislation be enacted to ensure accountability of the judiciary. It however stated that the Bill did not address public grievances but focussed on corruption in high places.
The states have been more successful in establishing the Lokayuktas. So far 18 states have enacted legislation to set up the office of Lokayukta. While Karnataka Lokayukta is often hailed as a successful case, several other states have had limited success in combating corruption since all of them are recommendatory bodies with limited powers to enforce their findings.
A Group of Ministers is looking into ways to tackle corruption, including the establishment of a Lok Pal. A public debate on the issues raised by various committees would help iron out the weaknesses of any proposed legislation.
This article was published in the Indian Express on April 8, 2011
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.