This is just the latest salvo in a long-running feud between Jagdeep Dhankhar and the state government led by Mamata Banerjee, which has accused the governor of acting as ‘an agent’ of the Centre
The West Bengal Assembly on Monday passed a bill that sought to replace Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as the chancellor of all state-run universities, amid opposition by the BJP legislators.
The bill was passed after 182 members voted in favour of the legislation and 40 against it in the 294-member Assembly.
Why is this happening?
This is just the latest salvo in a long-running feud between Jagdeep Dhankhar and the state government led by Mamata Banerjee, which has accused the governor of acting as ‘an agent’ of the Centre.
As per The Week, Mamata Banerjee’s taking over the chancellorship of all state-run universities in West Bengal is being seen as a direct challenge to the Raj Bhavan, and an attempt to enforce more political control over the universities.
“The act of making the governor chancellor of universities was done to safeguard the autonomy of the universities from political control. This action (Banerjee’s taking over) is nothing but to control the university from state headquarters,” Pabitra Sarkar, former vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University told The Week.
The reason behind Banerjee’s open challenge to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar is the latter’s “overactivism”. As chancellor, Dhankhar used to call meetings of vice-chancellors at Raj Bhavan. He also used to show-cause a couple of vice-chancellors for alleged irregularities in the universities.
Why is this important?
As per Hindustan Times, since Independence, the prime minister has been the chancellor of Central universities, while governors have been chancellors of — and visitors to — private state universities, as per the report.
Visva Bharati, set up by Rabindranath Tagore, is the only Central University in Bengal. The private universities in the state are St Xavier’s University, University of Engineering and Management, Sister Nivedita University, Seacom Skills University, Neotia University, JIS University, Brainware University, Amity University and Adamas University.
As per News18, this system was first proposed in 2010 by Punchi Commission, but it caught heat last year amid tensions between the governor and Chief Minister. There were earlier allegations that the state government was making appointments of vice-chancellors on its own; ignoring the chancellor (governor).
Is this normal?
As per News18, several states including Tamil Nadu and Kerala have also replaced governor with chief minister as the head of state-run universities. Last month, Stalin said that this is not a rare phenomenon.
As per Indian Express, Chief Minister MK Stalin said the bills were required as the governor was disregarding the state government’s opinion on the appointments of VCs, an argument also made by states such as Maharashtra and West Bengal in the past.
Gujarat government too holds the power to appoint vice-chancellors in state-based universities, as per News18.
What happens next?
As per NDTV, the bill will need the governor’s assent but he is constitutionally bound to act on the advice of the Cabinet. However, there have been instances where Governors in Opposition-ruled states have sat on Bills for a long time and sent them to the president, as per the report.
“The bill would go to the governor. He (the governor) would have three options. Either he would sign the bill, or he can send it to the Union government to know whether it goes with the spirit of the Constitution ( as UGC funds the universities) or he will not sign and the bill will lapse,” Amal Mukhopadhyay, academician and constitutional expert, told The Week.
State education minister Bratya Basu, after introducing The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in the House, said there was “nothing wrong” in chief minister taking over as the chancellor.
“Why can’t the chief minister be the chancellor of state universities if the Prime Minister is the chancellor of a central university — Visva Bharati? You can go through the recommendations of the Punchhi Commission…
“The governor, who is the present chancellor, has violated protocols on various occasions,” Basu said.
Opposing the bill, Opposition BJP alleged that appointing the chief minister as chancellor would lead to direct “political interference” in the state’s higher education system.
“The state government wants to control everything. The decision to appoint the CM as chancellor of universities is being taken to facilitate direct interference of the ruling party in the state’s education system,” BJP MLA Agnimitra Paul alleged.
With inputs from PTI
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