Draft bill to remove Governor as chancellor: What difference will it make?

Arif Mohammad Khan | File Photo: J SURESH / Manorama
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan. File Photo: J Suresh/Manorama

The Kerala Cabinet on Wednesday approved a draft amendment bill that seeks to remove the Governor as chancellor of all the 14 universities in Kerala. The amendment to the Kerala Universities Act will be tabled in the Assembly during the seventh session of the 15th Kerala legislative Assembly, which will commence from December 5.

The existing laws would be amended in such a way that each of the 14 universities will have a separate chancellor. The Commission for Reforms in Higher Education chaired by Shyam B Menon, the former Vice-Chancellor of Dr B. R. Ambedkar University, Delhi, had recommended in August this year that there should be a separate chancellor for each university.

Nonetheless, the proposed amendment of the LDF government will stick to the Commission's recommendation only in letter not in spirit.

Will there be a revamp of senate?
The Shyam B Menon Commission has imagined the Chancellor as the head of what it calls the 'Board of Regents', a leaner revitalised Senate. It wants the existing highly politicised Senate to be replaced by a "smaller, sleeker, and more functional body".

It is this new body - which the Commission says should draw its members from among distinguished public figures who have made a mark in areas like academia, science, culture, and professions - that is called the 'Board of Regents'.

It is from this 'Board of Regents' that the Commission says the Chancellor should be elected.

The LDF government's proposed amendment will most likely be the result of political expediency, a way to brush aside a bothersome chancellor, than of a radical restructuring of the higher education system as envisaged by the Shyam B Menon Commission. Already four court verdicts, starting with the annulment of the appointment of the A P J Abdul Kalam Technological University, were a triumph for the chancellor.

C & VC. Spot the difference
It is still not clear what the qualifications of the Chancellor would be. Here is what the Shyam B Menon Commission says: "The Chancellor should be a person of eminence with impeccable reputation, who has distinguished herself/himself in public life through a lifetime of excellence and leadership in fields like the academia, science, culture, professions, industry, governance, and public life."

These rare and exalted qualifications are equally applicable for a Vice Chancellor, too. So what makes the Chancellor different from a Vice Chancellor, except that the former would perhaps be older, more than 65 years?

If this is the description adopted for the Chancellor, it will also leave the room open for a senior politician, a businessman, a writer or even a film star to step in.

Now, since no less a person than the Governor is the chancellor, the post carries Constitutional authority irrespective of the individual holding the post.

If the proposed amendment is passed into law, the chances of the Chancellor's selection turning out to be as tricky and as riddled with political considerations as the selection of vice chancellors are high.

Behind Khan's back
By now it is certain that Governor Arif Mohammad Khan will not give his assent to the Bill. A similar Bill passed by the West Bengal government has already collected a thick coat of dust in some abandoned corner of the West Bengal Raj Bhavan.

In fact, the Governor could have caused trouble even before the Bill was tabled in the Assembly. Appointing 14 chancellors is a costly business, some amount of money has to be kept aside from the Consolidated Fund of India for the purpose. Any bill that makes a claim on the Consolidated Fund is a Money Bill.

Under Article 207, such bills can be tabled only with the permission of the Governor.

To avoid the embarrassment of having to seek the Governor's permission even before the sword could be raised for the kill, the draft bill will claim that there would be no extra outgo on account of the amendment. Government sources said a portion of the funds allocated to the Higher Education sector would be re-appropriated this fiscal to pay the salaries of the 14 chancellors.

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