Thursday, September 11, 2014


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Minister for Human Resource Development, Hon'ble Smrithi Irani has finally decided to take a giant step towards making Indian Universities have a better system of governance. Keeping in mind the principle Maximum Governance, Minimum Government The MInister has decided to take the Pathan Report out of cold storage and has called a Retreat at Jaipur to discuss the Common University Legislation with Vice Chancellors of all Central Universities. This issue has been hanging fire for some time and the UPA Government lacked the political will to even discuss the need for a common legislative framework. The principle enshrined in the Constitution of India is being violated everyday in Central Universities, each of which has its own Acts and Statutes, thereby violating the cherished legal principle of Equality Before the Law. While there is substantial parity between Central University staff in terms of pay, service conditions, and the like there are huge differences in the manner in which they are governed. For instance in the Statutory Bodies of some Central Universities there is provision for elected representatives of the Faculty in addition to cadre based nominations. There is need to introduce a common legal framework for the governance of Central Universities. The 18 new Universities started during the UPA tenure have  failed to take off the ground primarily due to laxity in the legal framework.

What is the need for a Common Legislation? This question is seldom asked because the stakeholders in the University prefer to leave large areas of decision making as discretionary entitlements and subsequently pressurise the Vice Chancellor to take decisions in their favor. A common Law governing Central Universities will necessarily act as a deterrent in this unseemly game of oneupmanship. In Central Universities Vice Chancellors have been "persuaded" to appoint unqualified people and there have been instances of meritorious faculty denied their due because of their reluctance to toe the line of the powers that be. Further, in terms of service conditions there needs to be uniformity both of procedure and norms of assessment. In the name of autonomy some Universities prescribe what they consider "higher norms" for promotion and even the higher norm is invoked selectively. The need for University Autonomy cannot be equated with the power of the Vice Chancellor and his/her ruling clique to act in an illegal and arbitrary manner. A common legislation will go a long way in reducing the number of cases that Universities routinely face in the Courts of Law. Arbitrary and illegal actions when contested before a Court of Law are fought at the expense of the university, while the individual has to bear the entire expense from his hard earned savings. I think the Hon'ble Minister for Human Resource Development will earn the gratitude of the entire teaching community if she successfully pilots the Common Legislation through the Lok Sabha.

The governance of central universities affords ample scope for abuse of power in the name of autonomy. Seldom is the issue of corruption discussed. The regulatory bodies such as AICTE and MCI have been exposed by the CBI for corruption and the Chairman of Medical Council of India, Dr Khetan Deasi was found to possess one metric tonne of gold in his house. I know that in certain central universities jobs are sold at the rate of 30 lakhs a piece. This is because in Southern Indian universities, particularly in Tamil Nadu the post of Vice Chancellor is sold for 10 crores and he/she is expected to recoup the investment through sale of jobs, contracts, building contracts, canteen contracts, security contracts etc. All these ills can be prevented at least in Central Universities by means of a common legislation.

There is also the academic side to this issue. The Common Legislation will naturally lead to a common Academic Calendar all over India and even perhaps a common entrance test. Students can migrate to take courses of their chice in a particular University in which there is specialized expertise. This kind of horizontal movement which will enhance the quality of education will flow from a common University legislation.

The Minister must be lauded for taking this initiative which will enchance the standing, worth and prestige of Indian Univeristies. 

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