Governors’ role as VC faces challenge as states call out ‘central interference’

States including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal have questioned the role of the governor as the titular head of state universities following alleged interference of the latter, a representative of the Centre, in the functioning of the varsities

(From Left to Right) governors Bhagat Singh Koshiyari (Maharashtra), Arif Mohammad Khan (Kerala) RN Ravi (Tamil Nadu), Jagdeep Dhankar (West Bengal)

From Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu and Kerala to Bengal, the position of governor as titular head of the state universities is now facing a challenge, bringing into focus the increasing trend of politics infiltrating the centers of higher education.

Days after the Maharashtra legislature passed a bill curtailing the powers of the governor in state universities, political parties in Tamil Nadu have been raising a demand to pass a similar bill in the state. Political parties said there has been an excessive intervention by the governor in the functioning of the state-run universities.

“The power to function as the chancellor of the universities is given by the state government through Universities Act to the governor. The power is not bestowed by the Constitution. We have all the rights to make amendments in the act that was passed by the state government to ensure the autonomy of the state,” said Senthil Arumugam, state secretary of Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM).

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“A bill similar to the one passed in Maharashtra should have been passed in Tamil Nadu long back but we had not done it so far,” he said, questioning the necessity to give the supreme powers of the state-run universities to the governor. “Ideally, powers should be with the state government because it is funded by the state,” he added.

Explaining that the governors have no connection with the state and they move out of the state after a point of time, he argued that the public cannot hold the governor accountable for the functioning of the university as he/she gets transferred after a point of time. “Whereas if the power lies with the state government, the public can hold them responsible,” he added.

D Ravikumar, a MP from Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) said, earlier the chancellor’s post was considered as a decorative. “The chancellor’s role was earlier limited to appointing a vice-chancellor from among the persons recommended by the search committee and participating in the convocation of the universities. But, now, the governor as chancellor is trying to wield more power especially in the non-BJP ruling states,” he added.

After Banwarilal Purohit took charge as the governor, he started conducting meetings with the vice-chancellors and started intervening in the functioning of the universities, Ravikumar said, adding that the same system has been continuing even now after RN Ravi took charge as the governor.

There are several allegations that the governor, through his nominee in the search committee, first ensures inclusion of the candidate of his choice in the recommendation list and then appoints him/her as the vice-chancellor, he said. This is affecting the independent functioning of the universities, he added.

As per the recommendations made by the Kothari commission and UGC, there should not be any political intervention in higher education but it is violated through the intervention of the governor, he said. “Ideally, a scholar or academician should be appointed as the chancellor of the universities,” he added.

The appointment of vice-chancellor has of late become a bone of contention between the governors and the state government, forcing some non-BJP ruled states to curtail the power of the Raj Bhawan in appointing the VCs.

The latest to do so is Maharashtra. The Maharashtra Public Universities (Third Amendment) Act, 2021, cleared by the state assembly on December 28, seeks to appoint the minister for higher and technical education as pro-chancellor and bring changes in the appointment process of VCs.

As per the amended procedures, the selection committee will recommend five names for the post of VCs to the state government, which will then shortlist two names and send them to the governor. The governor has to select one of the two names within 30 days. Earlier, the select committee would send its recommendations to the governor and not the state government.

Earlier in 2019, the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal curtailed the powers of the governor in appointing VCs, and to take action against them.

The TMC government is now contemplating to entirely replace the governor with the chief minister for the post of VCs as the run-in between the state government and the Raj Bhawan over the functioning of the state-run universities has become a regular affair ever since former BJP leader Jagdeep Dhankhar became the governor of the state in 2019.

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Dhankar only last week expressed his dismay over the appointment of VCs in 24 universities in the state without his consent.

“VCs of 24 Universities appointed @MamataOfficial in disregard of law. These are ex facie in defiance of specific orders or without approval by Chancellor-the Appointing Authority. These appointments carry no legal sanction and would be forced to take action unless soon recalled,” Dhankhar tweeted on December 30.

A similar controversy has erupted in Kerala over the reappointment of Gopinath Ravindran as the V-C of the Kannur University.

Governor Arif Mohemmad Khan said he had cleared the reappointment of Ravindran under pressure. Alleging political interference, he shot a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on December 8 declaring that he was relinquishing the post of chancellor. He asked the chief minister to take over as chancellor or bring a law on the contentious issue.

Khan has since then been refusing to accept any communication as the chancellor insisting that he no longer hold the post.

(With inputs from Nivedha Selvam in Chennai, Shahina in Kochi, and Samir Kar Purkayastha  in West Bengal)