There have been some recent developments in the sugar sector, which pertain to the pricing of sugarcane and deregulation of the sector. On January 31, the Cabinet approved the fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane for the 2013-14 season at Rs 210 per quintal, a 23.5% increase from last year’s FRP of Rs 170 per quintal. The FRP of sugarcane is the minimum price set by the centre and is payable by mills to sugarcane farmers throughout the country. However, states can also set a State Advised Price (SAP) that mills would have to pay farmers instead of the FRP. In addition, a recent news report mentioned that the food ministry has decided to seek Cabinet approval to lift controls on sugar, particularly relating to levy sugar and the regulated release of non-levy sugar. The Rangarajan Committee report, published in October 2012, highlighted challenges in the pricing policy for sugarcane. The Committee recommended deregulating the sugar sector with respect to pricing and levy sugar. In this blog, we discuss the current regulations related to the sugar sector and key recommendations for deregulation suggested by the Rangarajan Committee. Current regulations in the sugar sector A major step to liberate the sugar sector from controls was taken in 1998 when the licensing requirement for new sugar mills was abolished. Delicensing caused the sugar sector to grow at almost 7% annually during 1998-99 and 2011-12 compared to 3.3% annually during 1990-91 and 1997-98. Although delicensing removed some regulations in the sector, others still persist. For instance, every designated mill is obligated to purchase sugarcane from farmers within a specified cane reservation area, and conversely, farmers are bound to sell to the mill. Also, the central government has prescribed a minimum radial distance of 15 km between any two sugar mills. However, the Committee found that existing regulations were stunting the growth of the industry and recommended that the sector be deregulated. It was of the opinion that deregulation would enable the industry to leverage the expanding opportunities created by the rising demand of sugar and sugarcane as a source of renewable energy. Rangarajan Committee’s recommendations on deregulation of the sugar sector Price of sugarcane: The central government fixes a minimum price, the FRP that is paid by mills to farmers. States can also intervene in sugarcane pricing with an SAP to strengthen farmer’s interests. States such as Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have set SAPs for the past few years, which have been higher than FRPs. The Committee recommended that states should not declare an SAP because it imposes an additional cost on mills. Farmers should be paid a uniform FRP. It suggested determining cane prices according to scientifically sound and economically fair principles. The Committee also felt that high SAPs, combined with other controls in the sector, would deter private investment in the sugar industry. Levy sugar: Every sugar mill mandatorily surrenders 10% of its production to the central government at a price lower than the market price – this is known as levy sugar. This enables the central government to get access to low cost sugar stocks for distribution through the Public Distribution System (PDS). At present prices, the centre saves about Rs 3,000 crore on account of this policy, the burden of which is borne by the sugar sector. The Committee recommended doing away with levy sugar. States wanting to provide sugar under PDS would have to procure it directly from the market. Regulated release of non-levy sugar: The central government allows the release of non-levy sugar into the market on a periodic basis. Currently, release orders are given on a quarterly basis. Thus, sugar produced over the four-to-six month sugar season is sold throughout the year by distributing the release of stock evenly across the year. The regulated release of sugar imposes costs directly on mills (and hence indirectly on farmers). Mills can neither take advantage of high prices to sell the maximum possible stock, nor dispose of their stock to raise cash for meeting various obligations. This adversely impacts the ability of mills to pay sugarcane farmers in time. The Committee recommended removing the regulations on release of non-levy sugar to address these problems. Trade policy: The government has set controls on both export and import of sugar that fluctuate depending on the domestic availability, demand and price of sugarcane. As a result, India’s trade in the world trade of sugar is small. Even though India contributes 17% to global sugar production (second largest producer in the world), its share in exports is only 4%. This has been at the cost of considerable instability for the sugar cane industry and its production. The committee recommended removing existing restrictions on trade in sugar and converting them into tariffs. For more details on the committee’s recommendations on deregulating the sugar sector, 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.