Bengal decision to make CM as Chancellor

Context: The time may have come to reconsider having Governors as university Chancellors.

What is the recent issue?

The West Bengal government recently decided to make the Chief Minister the Chancellor of State-run universities, instead of the Governor. This decision appears to be an outcome of the severely strained relations between Governor and Chief Minister.

They have often differed on issues concerning the appointment of Vice-Chancellors and the functioning of universities. The governor had alleged that VCs were appointed without the approval of the Chancellor, the appointing authority; on some occasions, VCs had not turned up for a meeting with the Governor-Chancellor.

Other instances of friction b/w Governor and state govt

Tamil Nadu recently passed Bills to empower the State government, instead of the Chancellor, to appoint VCs. It also passed a separate Bill to establish a new university for alternative systems of medicine, with the Chief Minister as its Chancellor. The Bills are yet to receive the Governor’s assent.

In Kerala, there is a different kind of controversy, with the Governor asking the Chief Minister to take over the Chancellor’s role in the light of alleged political interference in the functioning of universities.

These developments underscore that the conferment of statutory roles to Governors may be a source of friction between elected regimes and Governors, who are seen as agents of the Centre.

Why Governors hold the office of Chancellor?

The original intent of making Governors hold the office of Chancellor and vesting some statutory powers on them was to insulate universities from political influence.

Justice R.S. Sarkaria Commission, acknowledged the distinction between the Governor’s constitutional role and the statutory role performed as a Chancellor, and also underlined that the Chancellor is not obliged to seek the government’s advice.

Justice M.M. Punchhi Commission, which examined Centre-State relations, was quite forthcoming in its 2010 report. Noting that the Governor should not be “burdened with positions and powers… which may expose the office to controversies or public criticism”, it advised against conferring statutory powers on the Governor.

Way forward

The time may have come for all States to reconsider having the Governor as the Chancellor.

However, they should also find alternative means of protecting university autonomy so that ruling parties do not exercise undue influence on the functioning of universities.

Source: This post is based on the article “Bengal decision to make CM as Chancellor” published in The Hindu on 8th June 22.

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