Punjab Assembly passes bill to replace governor with CM as chancellor of state universities 

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said the West Bengal Assembly too passed a similar bill last year.
Representational Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, in Kolkata, May 23, 2023. (Photo | PTI)
Representational Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, in Kolkata, May 23, 2023. (Photo | PTI)

CHANDIGARH: The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill to replace the governor with the chief minister as the chancellor of state-run universities following a brief debate.

Addressing the House during the debate on the Punjab Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said the West Bengal Assembly too passed a similar bill last year.

In December last year, the Kerala Assembly also passed a bill to replace the governor as the chancellor of universities in the state and appoint eminent academicians to the top post.

Apart from the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the bill was supported by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the lone Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member of the House.

The two-day session of the Punjab Assembly concluded on Tuesday.

The AAP government's move comes amid differences between the Mann dispensation and Governor Banwarilal Purohit on several issues, including some selections the state government made for the post of vice-chancellor.

"If we cannot appoint the vice-chancellor of a university, then it is a disrespect to the mandate which people have given us," Mann said in the House.

Indicating that the tussle between his government and the Raj Bhavan was far from over, the chief minister claimed that Purohit created impediments in the appointment of some vice-chancellors last year.

Mann alleged that contrary to securing the interests of Punjab, the governor was "often seen on the other side".

He referred to Panjab University, Chandigarh, to claim that instead of safeguarding the interests of Punjab and Punjabis, the governor had been taking a stance in favour of Haryana to allow its entry into the senate of the university.

"He takes my helicopter, a government helicopter, and then abuses me...I don't think so much iterference is needed. His duty is to administer oath...It does not mean he will create trouble for every small thing," said Mann.

"If I keep the wrong people in my Cabinet or don't take any action in any case, then people will take a decision. Who is he (governor) to decide whom to keep or remove?" asked Mann, apparently referring to the governor recently asking the chief minister to take action against his Cabinet colleague Lal Chand Kataruchak over charges of "sexual misconduct".

Before the Bill was introduced in the afternoon, Congress members staged a walkout from the Punjab Assembly protesting against no provision for a question hour or Zero Hour in the current session.

The BJP on Monday said its legislators would stay away from the two-day session and alleged that the AAP government was holding the session to further its own agenda and that it was a waste of taxpayers' money.

According to the Bill, the state government has established and incorporated 13 state universities under the administrative control of the departments of Higher Education, Technical Education and Industrial Training, Medical Education and Research, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Sports and Youth Services for raising the quality of higher education in the state.

The governor of Punjab is the chancellor of all the state universities by virtue of his post, it said, adding the governor also holds a constitutional post and has to discharge various functions enshrined under the Constitution of India.

According to the statements of objects and reasons of the bill, the Government of India-constituted commission on Centre-state relations under the chairmanship of Justice M M Punchhi has elaborated on the aspect of the position of the governor, relating to the chancellor of universities.

"The commission has stated that in order for the governor to be able to discharge his/her constitutional obligations fairly and impartially, he/she should not be burdened with positions and powers which are not envisaged by the Constitution and which may lead the office to controversies or public criticism," it said.

"The commission also observed that the governor should not be assigned functions casually under any statute."

It further said, "It is therefore considered necessary and imperative that the constituting Acts of the universities be amended accordingly so as to make the chief minister of Punjab the chancellor of all state universities for the purposes of the said Acts."

In October last year, Mann accused Purohit of regularly interfering with the functioning of his government, days after he was told to remove the Punjab Agricultural University VC Satbir Singh Gosal over charges that he was appointed without following University Grants Commission norms and the chancellor's approval.

In a letter to Purohit, the chief minister had said Gosal was appointed as per law.

The same month, Purohit refused to approve the AAP government's pick for the vice-chancellor's post at Faridkot's Baba Farid University of Health Sciences and asked the state government to send a list of three names for the post.

Earlier this month, Purohit accused the AAP government of acting against Constitution for not responding to his letters, asserting that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann is bound to reply to the Raj Bhavan.

Before the special session began, Purohit had sought information about the agenda of the two-day session of the state Assembly to be held on June 19 and 20.

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