Chief Minister vs Governor | Ordinance threatens future of higher … – Moneycontrol

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On the pretext of conforming to a recommendation from the Punchhi Commission report, the Kerala government has decided to ‘relieve’ the Governor of his chancellor duties in state universities, by way of an ordinance. A high-level panel by the state’s higher education department had also recommended having separate chancellors for state universities. Since it involves him, Governor Arif Mohammad Khan is likely to reserve the ordinance for the consideration of the President. If the ordinance is enacted, we will have multiple chancellors in the state, instead of one. This throws up several questions on the impropriety of the ordinance, and how institutions of great import are diluted for political gain.
Sudden Ineligibility
The ordinance seeks to remove not just Khan, but all future Governors as well from becoming chancellors. The Left government doesn’t explain the sudden ineligibility of the Governor, or the exigency that warrants an ordinance to remove him from the post. The reasons are apparent though — he made two interventions which invited the wrath of the government, and the Communist Party of the India(Marxist).
On August 18, Khan alleged nepotism in the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s secretary KK Ragesh, at the Kannur University. Taking a cue from the Supreme Court verdict that made void ab initio the appointment of the Kerala Technical University Vice Chancellor MS Rajasree, for flouting UGC norms, on October 23, Khan asked the Vice Chancellors in other universities who were also appointed in violation of the norms — either via single-name recommendations or by a committee with a non-academic member — to tender their resignations, or show cause for not complying with his instruction.
Though beyond their remit, the Chief Minister, other ministers, and the political leadership sided with the affected parties in both instances.
A Dangerous Alternative
While the proposal to appoint experts in the education sector as new chancellors may look harmless, experience suggests that the reality could be the opposite. Well-defined eligibility criteria for Vice Chancellors and professors notwithstanding, we saw the government’s political interests served in the appointments of Vice Chancellors and associate professors, which defied those criteria. Although the search committee for nominating the Vice Chancellor should contain only academics, the Chief Secretary almost always found a place on the committee. If non-academics are thus considered as academics, the government may appoint party loyalists sans qualifications as Chancellor(s), and find excuses to defend them.
The Lok Ayukta Route
Any conscious effort to undermine constitutional and autonomous bodies, or usurp their powers does not have place in a democracy. Scared that negative remarks from the Lok Ayukta would force elected representatives to step down, the Left government passed the Kerala Lok Ayukta (Amendment) Bill on August 30 that would give supervisory powers to the government over Lok Ayukta decisions, thus watering down the very principles that shaped the body. Likewise, on September 1, the government passed the University Laws (Amendment) Bill to expand the three-member search committee to nominate Vice Chancellors, and, thereby, take control.
If the Governor signs these Bills, the Lok Ayukta, and the search committee would be at the mercy of the state government. In the wake of the Supreme Court order upholding UGC rules over state rules, the reconstitution of the search committee as per the University Laws (Amendment) Bill may not have much significance. But if the Governor assents to the current ordinance, the government can appoint the Chancellor, and secure majority in the three-member search committee, as per UGC norms.
Higher Education In Dire Straits
The removal of the Governor as chancellor will allow the government to make universities the haven of political appointees, trickling down from the Chancellor’s post. Party followers pinning their hopes on backdoor placements in the Chancellor’s office would be a natural fallout. Recently, Vijayan accused Khan of acting as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) tool, and Khan snapped back by asking him to prove his allegation. He offered to resign if proven, and even challenged Vijayan to resign if he fails to substantiate his charges. Interestingly, Vijayan’s voice tailed off.
By accusing the Governor of saffronisation in universities, the government has been painting the whole system red. While it was done discreetly until now, the new ordinance will make it a brazen affair. The future of higher education depends on the vision of universities. For the Governor to not sign the ordinance will be a great service to the tens of thousands of students who want to pursue higher education in Kerala.
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