The National Advisory Committee has recently come out with a Communal Violence Bill. The Bill is intended to prevent acts of violence, or incitement to violence directed at people by virtue of their membership to any “group”. An existing Bill titled the “Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005” pending in the Rajya Sabha (analysis here). The main features of the NAC Bill are explained below: The Bill makes illegal acts which result in injury to persons or property, if such acts are directed against persons on the basis of their affiliation to any group, and if such an act destroys the secular fabric of the nation. Such acts include sexual assault, hate propaganda, torture and organized communal violence. It makes public servants punishable for failing to discharge their stated duties in an unbiased manner. In addition, public servants have duties such as the duty to provide protection to victims of communal violence and also have to take steps to prevent the outbreak of communal violence. The Bill establishes a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation to prevent acts of communal violence, incitement to communal violence, containing the spread of communal violence, and monitoring investigations into acts of communal violence. The Authority can also inquire into and investigate acts of communal violence by itself. The Bill also provides for the setting up of State Authorities for Communal Harmony, Justice, and Reparation. The central or state government has been given the authority to intercept any messages or transmissions if it feels that it might lead to communal violence. This power is subject to existing procedures which have to be complied with for intercepting messages and transmissions. Importantly, if public officers are liable to be prosecuted for offences under the Bill, and prior sanction is required for such prosecution, the state government has to grant or refuse sanction within 30 days. If not, then sanction will be deemed to have been granted. The Bill also allows the states to set up one or more Human Rights Defender of Justice and Reparations’ in every district. The Human Rights defender will ensure that those affected by communal and targeted violence are able to access their rights under existing laws. Apart from these, the Bill also establishes state and district-level authorities for assessing compensation for victims of communal violence. States also have numerous obligations towards victims, such as the establishment of relief camps, ensuring proper facilities, medical provisions and clothing for those within such camps, etc. The states government also has the obligation to create conditions which allow the return of victims of communal violence to the place of their ordinary residence.
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.