KERALA’S UNIVERSITY LAWS (AMENDMENT) BILLS

The Kerala government has passed the two University Laws (amendment) Bills in the State Assembly to amend laws relating to the governance of State universities and to remove Governor Arif Mohammed Khan as the Chancellor of said universities.

What do the Bills say?

The proposed legislations will amend the statutes of 14 universities established by legislative Acts in Kerala and remove the Governor as the Chancellor. The Bills will give the government power to appoint eminent academicians as Chancellors of various universities, thus ending the Governor’s watchdog role in university administration. The Bills also provide provisions to limit the term of the appointed chancellor to five years.

How did the Bill come into being?

  • Khan and the State Government have been at loggerheads for months now. It reached a simmering point when the Governor accused Kannur University VC Prof.
  • Gopinath Raveendran of plotting to endanger his life at the 2019 Indian History Congress. This took a turn for the worse when the Governor denied assent to the controversial Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill and University Laws (Amendment) Bill passed earlier by the State Assembly.
  • The fallout from this stand-off between the Governor and the Government led to Mr. Khan claiming that he has the power to dismiss Ministers who criticise him. Mr. Khan went to the extent of suggesting that the Chief Minister should take action against Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal as he had “ceased to enjoy my [Governor’s] pleasure.”
  • The worsening relationship between the State and Mr. Khan reached a tipping point with the Supreme Court order invalidating the Kerala Technological University VC’s appointment.
  • Following this judgment, the Governor demanded the resignations of 11 other VCs claiming that they were appointed through the same procedure that was invalidated by the top court.

State government amending University laws

  • The Minister for Law, P. Rajeeve, while tabling the Bills, pointed out that the UGC guidelines, which earlier used to be considered mandatory for Central universities and “partially mandatory and partially directive” for State universities, had been made legally binding for all universities by way of recent rulings by the Supreme Court.
  • “Worryingly, such precedence pointed towards a scenario in which the legislative powers of the Assembly on all subjects on the Concurrent List (of the Constitution) could be undermined through a subordinate legislation or an executive order issued by the Centre,” he said.
  • Moreover, the State government has claimed the recommendation of the Punchhi Commission on Centre-State Relations to refrain from “burdening the Governor with positions and powers which are not envisaged by the Constitution and which may lead the office to controversies or public criticism” as the rationale behind the Bills.

What are arguments against the Bill?

  • As described above, the Bills would give the State Government more leeway in appointing its own nominees as VCs of State Universities.
  • This would mean a transfer of power over university administration from the Governor and the UGC to the State Government.
  • While both the ruling front and the Opposition seem united in stripping away the Governor’s Chancellorship, the Opposition fears that the State Government would try to turn State universities into its fiefdom, leading to the erosion of the autonomy universities enjoy.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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