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Gujarat: Determined legislator

EducationWorld May 13 | Education News EducationWorld

A great trier like the spider who inspired Robert Bruce, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi, the frontrunner in the race to the prime minister’s office should the BJP emerge as the largest party in Parliament next summer, never gives up. Take the case of the appointment of a Lok Ayukta (ombudsman), a post kept vacant for nearly a decade until the governor Dr. Kamala Beniwal appointed one suo motu. Modi contested the appointment all the way to the Supreme Court. After the apex court upheld the appointment on January 2, Modi was back with a review petition which met the same fate. On March 18, he was back in the Supreme Court with a curative petition.

Even as the court was seized of the matter, the Modi government bulldozed the Gujarat Lok Ayukta Bill, 2013 through the legislative assembly which eliminates the roles of the governor and high court chief justice in appointing the Lok Ayukta, giving the chief minister primacy in choosing the ombudsman.

Likewise the Modi administration’s move to sharply curtail the autonomy of universities in the budget session of the legislative assembly which ended on April 2, was its fourth attempt to legislate a common Act to govern universities in the state. The proposed statute which has been fiercely resisted by academia and the intelligentsia since 2001, was reintroduced as the Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 on March 25.

The Bill slashes the autonomy of Gujarat’s 14 state government-funded universities, and vests huge discretionary powers in the state government on the ground that the public interest requires uniformity in varsity administration and education. The Bill principally takes away the governor’s power to appoint vice and pro vice chancellors in state universities. Indeed, it proposes deletion of the word ‘chancellor’ from all legislation relating to the 14 universities enumerated in the Bill and substitutes it with ‘state government’.

The Bill which has been passed by the Gujarat Legislative Assembly now awaits the governor’s nod to become  an Act. If this happens, the power to appoint vice and pro vice chancellors, currently vested in state governors (appointed by the Central government) countrywide by convention and law, will be transferred to the state government. “This is a blatant example of how Modi is subverting established institutions for total power. He is a dictator in democrat’s clothing,” says Dr. Manish Doshi, a Congress party spokesperson.

This Bill which has been repeatedly presented in various guises to the state assembly, has been fiercely opposed by not only the opposition Congress party but also the All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO). According to Bhavik Raja, secretary of the Gujarat state committee of the AIDSO, the design behind the Bill is to completely erode autonomy of state universities, students, teachers and staff members and “open the floodgates to commercialisation of higher education”.

On April 1, Lok Andolan Gujarat, Gujarat Lok Samiti, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties and All India Save Education Committee organised protests in Ahmedabad warning the public against the provisions of the Bill, which apart from enabling the state government to appoint vice and pro vice chancellors will also diminish the roles of university senates and syndicates, the main policy formulation bodies of universities. The Bombay Civil Service Rules which govern the state’s bureaucracy will become applicable to university staff and all varsities of each genre will have common syllabuses. Significantly, the Bill is not applicable to private universities which are being liberally sanctioned by the Modi administration.

According to state government spokespersons, the inspiration behind the Bill is a ‘model Act’ first proposed in 1961 by D.S. Kothari, former chairman of the Delhi-based University Grants Commission (UGC). However the proposal was put in cold storage for over three decades. In early 2000, UGC published a concept paper titled ‘Towards formulation of Model Act for Universities of the 21st century’. This prompted the chief minister to propose the legislation in its various avatars soon after he was elected to office in 2001.

Now under the guise of the Universities Laws (Amendment) Bill, this legislation has been sent up to the state governor Beniwal for mandatory approval even as the Congress party and academics are flooding her with pleas to withhold her consent.

Another battle royale in the courts is in the offing.

R.K. Misra (Gandhinagar)

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