28 Sep 2023 12:29 PM GMT
Amid increasing friction between the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government and Governor CV Anand Bose over the issue of the appointment of vice-chancellors in state-run universities, the Supreme Court on Wednesday (September 27) called upon intervenors to propose names of renowned scientists, technocrats, administrators, educationists, and other eminent individuals for inclusion in...
Amid increasing friction between the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government and Governor CV Anand Bose over the issue of the appointment of vice-chancellors in state-run universities, the Supreme Court on Wednesday (September 27) called upon intervenors to propose names of renowned scientists, technocrats, administrators, educationists, and other eminent individuals for inclusion in a selection panel to make these appointments.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta was hearing a special leave petition by the West Bengal government challenging a June 28 judgment of the Calcutta High Court upholding the interim vice-chancellor appointments made by Governor Bose in 13 state-run universities.
On the last occasion, the court, in an effort to break the logjam between the state government and the governor, decided to constitute a search-cum-selection committee for appointing the vice-chancellors of state-run universities. To determine the composition of the committee, the court asked for five names each from the University Grants Commission (UGC), the West Bengal government, and the governor. This development came after the state government informed the bench that neither the governor, in his ex-officio capacity as the chancellor of the state-run universities, nor the UGC had responded to any communications asking for their nominees for a search committee for the appointment of regular vice-chancellors.
The court has now invited suggestions from individuals or parties who are intervening in the legal proceedings regarding who should be included in the search committee. The intervenors can submit their recommendations by Wednesday, October 4. “[They] shall be at liberty to suggest the names of renowned scientists, technocrats, administrators, educationists, jurists or any other eminent personality for the purpose of nomination to the search committee,” the bench recorded in an order passed yesterday.
Besides this, information has also been sought regarding the state-run universities in West Bengal, the subjects or disciplines taught there, the existing provisions for the appointment of members in the search committee, as well as the new provisions proposed by the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023 which is currently awaiting the assent of the governor. Not only does this bill seek to replace the governor with the chief minister as the chancellor of state-run universities, but it also provides for the reconstitution of the search committee for vice-chancellors. The bench has directed that a tabulated chart containing these details be provided by next Wednesday.
This matter will be heard next on Friday, October 6.
The dispute revolves around whether West Bengal Governor CV Anand Bose’s appointments of interim vice-chancellors for state universities are legally valid.
Last year, 27 vacancies arose through resignation or expiration of tenure after the Calcutta High Court in Anupam Bera ruled that the 2018 University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations would prevail over conflicting provisions in the state university acts. 24 of these appointments had been made by the Mamata Banerjee-led government on the strength of the West Bengal University Laws Amendment Acts of 2012 and 2014.
To comply with the high court’s ruling, the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2023 was enacted to align the university laws with the UGC Regulations. Bratya Basu, the minister-in-charge of the higher education department, also proposed a list of 27 interim vice-chancellor candidates to the governor to fill the vacancies. However, Governor Bose in June approved only two candidates from the list and unilaterally appointed 13 vice-chancellors allegedly without consulting the state government. In response, the state government withheld their salaries alleging that the 13 senior professors appointed to the position had not been recruited by the education department. Not only this, the 13 appointments also prompted the current legal challenge.
Arguing that the 13 appointments were arbitrary and non-transparent, a retired professor approached the Calcutta High Court seeking a writ of quo warranto, seeking to annul them. A bench led by Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam, however, dismissed the plea and upheld the validity of the interim vice-chancellor appointments, clarifying that these appointees would receive their previous salaries with additional allowances for the temporary role. The court also observed that the former professor had also failed to demonstrate any public interest in his public interest litigation (PIL), raising concerns that he was being used as a ‘tool’ by the state government to indirectly challenge the governor’s orders.
In August, the West Bengal government challenged the high court’s ruling in a special leave petition. Around the same time, the state assembly, amid opposition by the Bharatiya Janata Party, also passed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023. Besides proposing to replace the governor with the chief minister as the chancellor of state-run universities, the bill provides for the reconstitution of the search committee for vice-chancellors. This is the second time that the West Bengal legislative assembly passed the bill, with the governor withholding his assent to the first bill passed last year. According to reports, Governor Bose has not assented to the second iteration yet.
Amid the ongoing tussle between the state government and Raj Bhavan, Governor Bose has reportedly appointed interim vice-chancellors for seven other state universities, including Presidency University, MAKAUT, and University of Burdwan, earlier this month. This move, allegedly without consulting the state government, has been severely criticised by the ruling Trinamool Congress Party. A recent circular issued by Raj Bhavan stipulating that university officers must seek the consent of vice-chancellors before executing state government orders has also come under the scanner.
State of West Bengal v. Dr. Sanat Kumar Ghosh & Ors. | Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 17403 of 2023