Kerala govt bill to curtail governor’s power in varsities to be tabled on Aug 24

in the governor vs chief minister in Kerala, the opposition Congress has supported the governor , saying Arif Mohammad Khan used his power as chancellor to prevent Kannur University’s attempt to make an illegal appointment

Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan has criticised the LDF government’s move to enact a law to curtail the powers and functions of the chancellor of state universities. (PTI File Photo)

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A bill that seeks to give the Kerala government an upper hand in selecting vice chancellors of 13 state universities will be taken up by the state assembly on Wednesday amid a widening rift between Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan and chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, people familiar with the matter said.

A senior government official said the proposed bill is expected to be passed during the assembly’s special 10-day session convened on Monday after the governor didn’t sign off on requests from the state to re-promulgate 11 ordinances, or executive orders. Among the legislations that lapsed was an ordinance that effectively curtailed the powers of anti-corruption watchdog Lok Ayukta.

The governor and the chief minister have been at odds for months on multiple issues; the state of affairs at the state’s 13 universities has been a recurring theme. The governor, who acts on the aid and advice of the council of ministers on all other matters, can act independently and take his own decisions on all matters related to the university of which he is the chancellor.

Two weeks ago, the governor constituted a three-member search committee for the selection of the new V-C of Kerala University without consulting the government. Over the last week, the governor also stayed the appointment of Priya Varghese, wife of the chief minister’s private secretary, in Kannur University on charges of nepotism, called vice-chancellor Gopinath Ravindran a “criminal” and accused him of plotting an attempt to manhandle him during the History Congress in Kannur (north Kerala) three years ago.

The bill, cleared by the Kerala cabinet last week, proposes to effectively give the government the right to select vice-chancellors.

Under the existing legal framework, a three-member search committee appointed by the governor is mandated to recommend potential candidates. This committee comprises nominees of the governor, the University Grants Commission and the university senate’s representative.

The bill proposes to increase the strength of this search committee to five – nominees of the state government and state higher education council will be the two additional members – and stipulate that the candidate with the majority support in the search committee should be notified by the governor. This will end the governor’s discretion in the selection process.

Opposition Congress and BJP have criticised the move to clip the governor’s powers.

“People of Kerala will support his (governor’s) move to cleanse varsities and oppose the bill to curtail his powers,” said state Congress chief K Sudhakaran. The state’s BJP president K Surendran agreed. “It is time to clean up universities that are reduced to mere party offices,” said.

But Opposition has also backed the governor in putting his foot down on re-promulgating 11 ordinances. Most of the ordinances sent for approval to Governor Arif Mohammad Khan were renewed last year and the governor was upset that the government hadn’t sought the assembly’s approval for the 11 legislative proposals.

The ordinance to curb the powers of the anti-corruption body was introduced in February and gives the powers to accept or reject Lok Ayukta’s recommendations to the governor and chief minister.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan earlier assured Khan that there would be no political interference in the administration of universities but Raj Bhavan contended that meritorious candidates for key posts in universities continued to be ignored. “If I am the chancellor I will not be a party to such back door entries,” he said last week. Khan is currently in Uttar Pradesh ad is expected back in Kerala on August 24.

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