The Kerala Assembly on Tuesday passed a Bill to remove the Governor of the state as Chancellor of state universities despite a walkout by the Opposition which, while concurring with the larger intent of the Bill, insisted that a replacement should be chosen from amongst Supreme Court judges or former Chief Justices of the High Court of Kerala. 

The Bill seeks to end an unseemly tussle between Governor Arif Muhammad Khan and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the contentious matter. They have been at loggerheads with each other for several weeks now over ‘irregularities in the appointment of vice-chancellors’ as also an ordinance that the Governor refused to ratify the grounds that he was being targeted.

Opposition alleges foul play

The University Laws (Amendment) Bill passed by the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government on Tuesday proposed that eminent academicians may be appointed to the top post which the Congress-led Opposition stated will only help rehabilitate the CPI(M)’s own hand-picked choice.

The Opposition also highlighted the need for different Chancellors for each of the 14 universities and that the selection panel should comprise the Chief Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the Kerala High Court Chief Justice. But Law Minister P Rajeeve, who piloted the bill, said a judge cannot be a part of the selection panel and Speaker of the Assembly would be a better option.

UGC guidelines

The LDF government had contended that the legislation was intended to insulate the state universities from the designs of the Sangh Parivar and executed by Governors in other states too. Law Minister Rajeeve said UGC guidelines had been made legally binding for all universities as against originally provided for. 

The State government also took recourse to recommendations of the Punchhi Commission on Centre-State relations that it is better that the Governor is not burdened with positions and powers not envisaged by the Constitution and which may lead the office to controversies or public criticism. The Bill will need the Governor’s signature, and will bring things back to square one, vis-a-vis the parent ordinance. Government officials aver there is nothing that prevents the government from bringing a Bill even if the ordinance is pending before the President.