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Appointments of Vice-Chancellor: New Arena of turf war between Centre and States

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    4th May, 2022

Context

In order to limit the Governor’s power, two Bills passed by the Tamil Nadu State Assembly that seek to transfer the Governor’s power in appointing Vice-Chancellors of 13 state universities to the state government.

  • The Tamil Nadu Universities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2022
  • The Chennai University (Amendment) Act, 2022 

Background

What are the Salient Features of the two Bills?

  • The Bills passed in Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly categorically states that “every appointment of the Vice-Chancellor shall be made by the State Government from out of a panel of three names” recommended by a search-cum-selection committee.
  • At this point of time, the Governor has the power to pick a VC from the shortlisted names in his capacity as the Chancellor of state universities.
  • The Bills said, according to the Acts in Gujarat, Telangana and Karnataka, the V-C shall be appointed by the Chancellor with the concurrence of the State government.
  • The Bills also aims to empower the state government to have the final word on the removal of VCs, if such circumstances arise.
  • Removal of a VC, if necessitated, can be done based on inquiries by a retired High Court judge or a bureaucrat who has served at least as a Chief Secretary, according to one of the Bills.

Amendment of which two Bills have led to Governor’s power in appointment of VCs in State Universities being curtailed if given assent to?

  • Chennai Universities Act, 1923
  • The Tamil Nadu Universities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2022

Have other states tried to constrain the role of Governor in the appointment of VCs?

  • Recently the Maharashtra Assembly passed a Bill amending the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016.
  • Under the original Act, the Maharashtra government had no say in appointment of VCs. 
  • Under the proposed amendment however, the Governor will be given two names to choose fromby the state government following recommendation made by a panel.
  • The West Bengal government, three years ago, took away the Governor’s authority in appointing VCs to state universities. 
  • The Odisha has also tried to bring appointments to state universities under its control. But the same has been challenged by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

Are there any states where the power of provincial government over-ride the authority of Governor in appointment of VCs?

  • In Gujarat and Telangana, VCs to the state universities are appointed by the Governor in consultation with the State Government.

The Gujarat University Act, 1949 states that “the Vice-Chancellor shall be appointed by the State Government from amongst three persons recommended by a (search-cum-selection) committee”. 

The Telangana Universities Act, 1991 states that the search committee shall “submit a panel of three persons to the Government in alphabetical order and the Government shall appoint the Vice-Chancellor from out of the said panel”.

  • In Karnataka, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, state laws underline the need for concurrence between the state and the Governor. 

What are the reasons for differences arising between various state governments and Governor’s over the appointment of VCs?

  • Politics lies beneath all the other reasons for difference in the matter of appointment of VCs and other important functionaries in the state universities.
  • State Governments, those ruled by parties other than the ruling party at the Centre, allege that the Governor, being an appointee of the Union Government, creates hindrance in the working of various aspects of state administration including appointment of VCs.
  • It is also important to note that the regulations related to appointment of VCs differ from state to state and the same are open to multiple interpretations leading to disputes.

What is the stand of University Grants Commission on the question of appointments of VCs in State Universities?

  • Education comes under Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution, which means that both Centre and State Governments have a say with respect to it though the former enjoy upper hand.
  • According to the UGC (Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and other Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education) Regulations, 2018, the “Visitor/Chancellor” — mostly the Governor in states — shall appoint the VC out of the panel of names recommended by search-cum-selection committees. 
  • Higher educational institutions, particularly those that get UGC funds, are mandated to follow its regulations.
  • These are usually followed without friction in the case of central universities, but are sometimes resisted by the states in the case of state universities.

What is the legal position according to the Supreme Court of India?

  • The Supreme Court of India has stated that appointment of any person as a Vice Chancellor in contrary to the provisions of the UGC Regulations can be said to be in violation of the statutory provisions, and liable to be stuck down. 
  • According to the Apex Court in case of any contravention between the state legislation and Central Legislation (in this case UGC Act and regulations derived from this law), the later will prevail on application of the rule/principle of repugnancy as enunciated in Article 254 of the Constitution as the subject ‘education’ is in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

Have there been any recommendation made by any expert panel of the matter of appointment of VCs in state universities?

  • The Punchhi Commission on Centre-State relations had, while dealing with the subject of VC appointments, said “there would be a clash of functions and powers” if the authority to choose the top academician was wrested with the governor.
  • This Commission had recommended that Governors should not be vested with powers that were not given to them by the Indian Constitution (which includes power to appoint VCs.
  • This according to the Commission would give space for controversies and criticism and it would lead to clash of function between the state government and the governor.

What should be the way forward?

  • Vice-Chancellor’s position is of prime importance in India’s University structure.
  • He/she not only take care of the day-to-day working of the Universities but also provides a vision to the organisation based on which education and values and imparted on students who would be the citizen of tomorrow and mould the future of India.
  • Appointment of such person therefore has to be done with due diligence after taking into consideration the academic credentials of the candidates and taking into consideration the views of all stakeholders including the Governor and state government.
  • The realm of politics and controversy associated with it needs to be kept away from it.
  • If need be a consultation committee may be appointed consisting of senior academician who can recommend the requite procedure that may be adopted so that appointed of VCs could henceforth be streamlined.

Practice Questions

Q1. It is moral obligation of the Governor to exercise her discretionary power with objectivity and impartiality. Analyse this statement in context of political tussle between the Governor and state government.

Q2. Discretionary power of Governor is wider than that of President. Comment.

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