The West Bengal assembly today passed a bill that makes the Chief Minister – and not the Governor – Chancellor of all state universities in Bengal. BJP legislators protested but just 40 votes were polled against the bill and 183 were in favour. The move had earlier been cleared by the state Cabinet in the backdrop of Governor Jadgeep Dhankhar’s clash with the state government over appointments of vice-chancellors across universities.
The Bill will now need the Governor’s clearance, but he is constitutionally bound to act on the advice of the Cabinet. However, there have been instances where Governors in opposition-ruled states have sat on Bills for a long time and sent them to the President.
The Governor, by virtue of his position, is the Chancellor of all state-run universities.
Last month Tamil Nadu had passed a bill empowering the state government to take over the Governor’s power of appointing vice-chancellors to universities.
State education minister Bratya Basu, after introducing The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in the House, said there was “nothing wrong” with the chief minister taking over as the chancellor.
“Why can’t the chief minister be the chancellor of state universities if the Prime Minister is the chancellor of a central university – Visva Bharati? You can go through the recommendations of the Punchhi Commission…The governor, who is the present chancellor, has violated protocols on various occasions,” Mr Basu said.
The development is likely to draw a fresh battleline between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who also heads the ruling Trinamool Congress, and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who the state’s ruling party leaders have accused of working with the centre to harass the Mamata Banerjee government on key issues.
By law, the Governor is the Chancellor of 17 universities in the state, according to the Bengal Raj Bhavan’s official website. Some of them 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.
For Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan, the Governor is the Pradhana, or Rector, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the Chancellor.
In January this year, Mr Dhankhar alleged that Vice Chancellors of 25 state universities in Bengal were appointed without his consent.
Opposing the bill, the opposition BJP alleged that appointing the Chief Minister as Chancellor would lead to direct “political interference” in the state’s higher education system.
“The state government wants to control everything. The decision to appoint the CM as Chancellor of universities is being taken to facilitate direct interference of the ruling party in the state’s education system,” news agency PTI quoted BJP MLA Agnimitra Paul as alleging.