The West Bengal cabinet on Thursday approved a proposal to replace the governor with the chief minister as the chancellor of State-run universities. State Education minister Bratya Basu, while addressing a press conference post a cabinet meeting, said the proposal would soon be introduced in the State assembly in the form of a bill.
Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who has shared an acrimonious relationship with the State government since assuming charge in Bengal, is yet to react to the development.
"Today, the state cabinet gave its consent to the proposal to make the chief minister the chancellor of all state-run universities, in the place of the governor. This proposal will soon be introduced as a bill in the Assembly, and then be made a law," Basu said.
The governor, by virtue of his position, is the chancellor of all state-run universities in the state. Dhankhar had recently locked horns with and the state government over appointment of vice-chancellors (VCs) of state-run varsities amid other issues. He had alleged that vice-chancellors of "24 universities have been appointed illegally without the chancellor’s approval".
In December last year, the governor had expressed anguish after chancellors and vice-chancellors of private universities skipped a meeting called by him at his official residence. They had expressed inability to attend the meeting citing the Covid-19 situation.
Dhankhar had faced a similar situation in January 2020 when vice-chancellors of state-run universities were invited for a meeting. Basu had last year said that it was time to introspect whether there was a "need to continue with the colonial legacy" of getting the governor to hold the post of chancellor.
Meanwhile, condemning the cabinet move, BJP national secretary Anupam Hazra claimed that 14th-century Delhi Sultan Muhammad Bin Tuglaq – often referred to as a tyrant king – "would have felt insecure, had he witnessed the state of affairs in Bengal".
"Today, the state cabinet decided that the chief minister will be the chancellor of state-run universities. Next, it might also decide that the chief minister should be addressed as the prime minister of the state," BJP national secretary Anupam Hazra said.
CPI (M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty, too, slammed the decision as a "reflection of an authoritarian mindset" that seeks to control every lever of power.
The decision evoked mixed response from the educationists, with some describing the move as an infringement on the autonomy of the educational institutions, while others stating that it would help foster better coordination between varsity heads and the government.
‘Erosion of autonomous status’
Amal Mukhopadhyay, the former principal of Presidency College (before it became a university), said the decision was "uncalled for" and would only "result in erosion of autonomous status of a higher educational institution". "Effort to make her the chancellor is nothing but a political step. This may only vitiate the academic atmosphere in the institutions," Mukhopadhyay said.
Educationist Pabitra Sarkar said the governor had been shouldering the chancellor's responsibilities in this state for ages, and "now the West Bengal cabinet has taken a decision to reverse that". "We don't know the reason behind such move. Will it help in improving the academic atmosphere?" he wondered.
Noted historian and indologist Nrisinga Prasad Bhaduri, however, welcomed the decision. "Everyone knows that the chief minister is concerned about academic developments in West Bengal. It will be in the fitness of things to have someone who has a grasp on the day-to-day matters on the campuses," he added.