In the backdrop of West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar’s public quarrels with the state government over appointments of vice-chancellors across universities, a bill has been passed in the state assembly today (June 13), making the chief minister of the state the chancellor of all state universities in Bengal. The West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has in effect taken over the governor’s position as chancellor of all state-run universities.
The BJP legislators protested against this move but only 40 votes were polled against the bill, while 183 were in favour in the 294-member assembly. Meanwhile, the governor Dhankar has already called this move by the state government as “unconstitutional”.
This move has not come as a surprise because on June 6, the cabinet had already given its nod to replace the governor with the CM as the chancellor of all the state-run agriculture, health and animal resources universities, including those under the education department. The bill now requires a clearance from the governor, but he is constitutionally bound to act on the cabinet’s advice.
Last month, Tamil Nadu had passed a bill giving the power to the state government to bypass the governor and appoint vice-chancellors to universities.
After introducing the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in the house, the state education minister Bratya Basu expressed his opinion on the new development saying there was “nothing wrong” with the CM replacing the governor as chancellor of state-run universities.
According to media reports, Basu asked, why can’t the chief minister be the chancellor of state universities if the Prime Minister is the chancellor of a central university, the Visva Bharati?
Further, he asked people to check the Punchhi Commission recommendations…”The governor, who is the present chancellor, has violated protocols on various occasions,” asserted Basu.
This move will most likely trigger a fresh round of a war of words between CM Mamata Banerjee and governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. Both have been at loggerheads with each other since the time Dhankar took over as governor in 2019.
The leaders from the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) have alleged that Dhankar is harassing the Mamata Banerjee government on key issues on the advice of the centre.
By law, the governor is the chancellor of 17 universities in the state, some of which are the University of Calcutta, Jadavpur University, University of Kalyani, Rabindra Bharati University, Vidyasagar University, the University of Burdwan and North Bengal University, among others.
In the case of Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan, the governor is the Pradhana, or Rector, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the chancellor.
In January this year, Dhankhar, who recently said at a public function in Jaipur that there is no “rule of law” in Bengal, and that he has seen “terrible situations and challenges” as a governor, alleged that vice-chancellors of 25 state universities in Bengal were appointed without his consent.
Opposing the bill making the CM the chancellor, the Opposition BJP alleged this situation would lead to direct “political interference” in the state’s higher education system.
BJP MLA Agnimitra Paul told PTI that the state government wants to control everything. And, appointing the CM as chancellor of universities is being done to facilitate direct interference of the ruling party in the state’s education system.