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TN: Governor Holds VCs' Meet, Assembly Passes Bill to Snatch His Power to Appoint VCs

Neelambaran A |
The SPCSS accused the Governor of violating the constitution and challenging the people's elected government by running a parallel power centre, while the State government retaliated by passing a bill clipping power of the governor in appointing VCs.
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Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi inaugurating the VCs conference in Raj Bhavan, Udhagamandalam, on April 25 (Courtesy: www.tnrajbhavan.gov.in)

As the Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi is chairing the two-day conference of the Vice-Chancellors (VC) of central, state and private universities in the state, the Assembly passed a bill to appoint VCs directly by the government. As the Chancellor of the universities, the Governor is vested with the power to appoint VCs now.

The conference had run into controversy as the State government, and the education department was reportedly not consulted by the Raj Bhavan. The Raj Bhavan announced the information about the conference through a press release on April 22. The guests for the conference are Chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC) M Jagadesh Kumar and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Zoho Corporation Sridhar Vembu.

The State Platform for Common School System, Tamil Nadu (SPCSS-TN) demanded the State government to advise the VCs, professors and associate professors not to attend the conference, which did not materialise. The SPCSS has also accused the governor of acting as an extra-constitutional office, violating the constitutional values and policies of the elected state government.

BILL PASSED IN ASSEMBLY

The minister for higher education, Dr K Ponmudy moved the bill seeking to transfer power to appoint VCs to the universities from the governor to the government/chief minister.

In the bill moved, the higher education minister has referred to the Gujarat University Act 1949 and Telangana Universities Act 1991, which give power to the state governments to appoint VCs, while the Karnataka State Universities Act 2000 mandates the appointment of the VCs by chancellors in consultation with the government.

The government, in the bill, proposed to amend the laws for the 13 state-run universities. The opposition parties, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), walked out of the house when the bill was put to the vote.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government, since January 2022, had been contemplating the bill since the intervention of the governor in appointing VCs and extending their tenures without consultation was raised in the Assembly and outside.

CONFERENCE AND CONTROVERSY

The Raj Bhavan, in a press release on April 22, announced the conduct of the two days conference to be held in Raj Bhavan, Udhagamandalam (The Nilgiris). The statement added that the conference will come up with ideas and action plans for 'India's Role in emerging New World Order' and 'India to be World Leader by 2047'.

The information came as a shock to the academics and the State government since there was no consultation before the announcement with any officials. The CM, in his address to the Assembly, accused the governor of interfering in the daily business of the government, but the government did not react when the information of the conference was made public.

The SPCSS accused the governor of running a parallel government against the elected government. “Raj Bhavan organising a conference of VCs without the participation of the State higher education minister is nothing but running a parallel government. The governor with scant respect for the duly elected State government is acting according to his whims and fancies,” the SPCSS said in a statement.

The presence of the CEO of a private corporation at the conference also stirred up controversy. “The policy decisions can be taken only by the elected government. The higher education minister as the pro-chancellor of the universities was not invited to the conference. At the same time, a CEO of a private corporation is an invited guest,” said Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary of SPCSS.

CONSTITUTION UNDERMINED’

The governor's actions amount to a violation of constitutional guidelines and undermining the constitution, the SPCSS accused.

“When there is a duly elected government, the governor cannot override the powers of the government or the legislative assembly. Instead of performing the duties in accordance with the Constitution of India, the governor is assuming extra-constitutional authority,” the statement of SPCSS alleged.

While speaking on the bill, the chief minister MK Stalin accused the governor of assuming power that was not vested in him. “In the last four years, the practice of consulting the state government before appointing the VCs has been dropped. The governor thinks that he has special powers,” he said.

The SPCSS called upon the people of the state and government to act against the governor's actions. “Mr RN Ravi is misusing the governor's office to sabotage parliamentary democracy and promote the business interest of private companies. The Governor is acting as though the Governor is superior to the elected Ministry,” Prince said.

All the controversy on higher education is unfolding even as the DMK led government has constituted a committee to frame a separate education policy as the BJP-led government has been trying hard to implement the NEP.

The increasing intervention in the rights of the states by the BJP government has given rise to an increased thrust on federalism in recent years. At the same time, the appointed governors continue to hamper the actions of the non-BJP governments in several states.

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