The row over Bt Brinjal, a genetically modified version of the plant, provoked the government into imposing a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of the plant in India. The debate has revolved around issues of economic efficacy, human health, consumer choice and farmers’ rights. Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, made public his views on the subject, a gist of which is given below:
In order to understand the process followed by GEAC before giving the green signal to Bt Brinjal, we have made a timeline in which the plant was approved and the bodies involved in the process.
|2000-2005||Scientific tests carried out by Mahyco on Bt Brinjal|
|2006||Mahyco submits bio-safety data to GEAC (regulatory body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests). Seeks permission for large scale trials.|
|Supreme Court stops ongoing field trials of GM crops due to a PIL filed by civil society representatives.|
|2007||The expert committee 1 set up by GEAC, submits its report. Recommends seven more studies on bio-safety be repeated for reconfirmation of data generated during confined multi-location trials but approves large scale trials.|
|Supreme Court lifts ban on GM crop field trials subject to conditions such as isolation distance etc.|
|As per GEAC direction, Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR) takes up the responsibility of large scale trails of Mahyco's Bt Brinjal trials at 10 research institutions across the country in 2007 and 11 in 2008.|
|2009||Jan: IIVR submits the results of the large scale trails. Due to concerns raised by several stakeholders, GEAC constitutes another expert committee to look into adequacy of biosafety data generated as well as the concerns raised by all stakeholders.|
|Oct 8: Expert-committee 2 submits its report. States benefits of Bt Brinjal far outweigh the perceived and projected risks.|
|Oct 14: GEAC approves the environmental release of Bt Brinjal containing the event EE1 (with one dissent note from P.M. Bhargava).|
|Oct 15: Jairam Ramesh announces a nationwide consultation in January and February of 2010 pending a final decision on this issue.|
|2010||Jan 13 to Feb 6: Public meetings were organized on the Bt Brinjal issue. The summary of the consultations is available on the Ministry’s website.|
|Many states announce ban on commercial cultivation of Bt Brinjal including Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.|
|Feb 9: Jairam Ramesh decides to halt the commercialization of Bt Brinjal.|
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.