President withholds 3 Kerala bills on varsity reforms; includes one replacing Guv as Chancellor

Arif Mohammad Khan | File Photo: JOSEKUTTY PANACKAL
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan . Photo: Manorama/Josekutty Panackal

Thiruvananthapuram: The President of India, Droupadi Murmu, has withheld assent to three legislative bills sent by the Kerala Governor, according to an official statement from Raj Bhavan.

The bills in question are the Kerala University Law Bill 2022, which aims to replace the Governor from the position of Chancellor of universities in the state; the University Law Amendment Bill 2022, which proposes alterations to the composition of search committees for university appointments; and the University Law Amendment Bill 2021, focused on governance changes within the state's technology universities.

All three bills have been put on hold by the President, who has yet to decide on sanctioning them. 

The recent development on the bills marks a significant setback to the Kerala government's initiative to remove the governor from the authority of universities in the state. Of the seven bills submitted for presidential consent, only the Lokayukta Bill received approval. 

Consequences of the amendments
The amendments, if given Presidential nod, would have rung in four major changes.

One, it would have removed the Governor as chancellor of universities. Instead, the proposed Bill said the government would appoint as Chancellor an academician of high repute or a person of eminence in any field of science, technology, medicine, social science, humanities, literature, art, culture or public administration. 

In fact, the Shyam B Menon Commission on higher education reforms had recommended the Chief Minister as the Chancellor.

Two, it would have changed the number and composition of the search-cum-selection committee appointed to identify suitable vice chancellor candidates. There would have been five members in the committee. 

As it stands, the search-cum-selection committee has three members; a nominee of the Governor/Chancellor, a person elected by the University Senate and a member of the chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The Centre - Governor and the UGC - had a clear upper hand.

The amendment, therefore, had proposed two more members affiliated to the state government; nominees of the government and the vice chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council (KSHEC). This would have given the government a majority of three in a committee of five.

Three, the Chancellor/Governor would have had to pick from a list of three names submitted by a majority of the search committee members. This, in effect, would have ensured that only a government nominee would be the VC.

Under the existing law, the three-member committee has to recommend a name unanimously. If they are unable to come to a consensus, the three members can submit three separate panels and the Governor can choose a candidate from any of the three panels. It is advantage Governor in the choice of VC.

Four, the search committee needed to have submitted its panel only in four months. As it stands, the deadline is three months.

Five, the maximum age for a VC would have been raised to 65 from 60. This change was effected in 2022 through an ordinance to facilitate the reappointment of Gopinath Ravindran as Kannur University VC. The Supreme Court has now invalidated Raveendran's appointment.

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