THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan government on Wednesday decided to bring an ordinance to remove the governor as the chancellor of the state universities and replace him with experts, higher education minister R Bindu said in state capital Thiruvananthapuram after the cabinet vetted the proposal amid the continuing tussle between the state government and the governor.
Bindu said that the cabinet discussed a draft ordinance proposed by the law department in this context and decided to go along with it. “Instead of a single chancellor, there will be many (chancellors) and it will be a big leap in the higher education sector. It will help overhaul the system. We hope the Governor will discharge his constitutional duties,” Bindu told reporters.
The move comes against the backdrop of a bitter back-and-forth between the Left Democratic Front government and governor Arif Mohammad Khan over multiple issues including the appointment of vice-chancellors of its universities.
Governor Arif Mohammad Khan responded to the government plan, declaring that he would send the ordinance to the President for a decision. “Since the ordinance is against me, I cannot judge it. So I will send it to the President,” Khan told Manorama news channel.
At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, ministers noted that West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have already passed legislation to strip the governor of the chancellor’s role. To be sure, the governor in both states is yet to sign off on the legislation.
The proposed ordinance in Kerala too will need governor Arif Mohammed Khan’s assent to become law. Asked about the government’s options if he also doesn’t sign off, Bindu said the government will explore all options if such a situation arises.
Legal experts said the government cannot set a deadline for the governor to sign the ordinance.
Khan has already withheld consent to two of the 11 legislations passed by the Kerala assembly at its special session in August that sought to curtail the powers of the anti-corruption watchdog Lokayukta and the governor’s powers as the chancellor of universities. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan initially tried to enact the 11 legislations via the ordinance route but eventually had to convene the special session after the governor frowned at the attempt to “rule through ordinances”.
It was after the governor refused to sign off on the 11 ordinances that escalated the ongoing tussle between the governor and the chief minister’s office.
Since then, the LDF ruling coalition’s leaders have accused the governor of trying to bring in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s ideology into the state’s education sector, a charge which he has asked them to prove. On Monday, Khan told reporters that he was threatened with “dire consequences” by activists of Left organisations in the state. The row is expected to spill over to the streets next week when the ruling CPM holds a protest outside Raj Bhavan on November 15.
A minister said the government is also toying with the idea of avoiding the governor’s customary address to the first assembly session in the new year. The minister said the government is planning to call a session in the December third week which will continue till January first week to avoid the governor’s address. “There is no going back in this fight,” he said.
The state’s opposition Congress and BJP criticised the move.
“We are not supporting the governor but the move will help the ruling party to appoint more party activists through backdoor. We will oppose it in the assembly,” said opposition leader V D Satheesan.
“The governor is getting removed for questioning nepotism in varsities. We have seen the appointment of unqualified relatives of ministers in key posts,” said BJP leader M T Ramesh.
On Oct 22, the Supreme Court quashed the appointment of APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University vice-chancellor MS Rajashree, saying that the search committee to select a V-C was not constituted in accordance with the rule and that it failed to recommend three names for the post as per University Grants Commission norms.
In the case of Rajashree, the committee only recommended a single name making her appointment “illegal” and void ab initio (having no legal effect), the court observed.
Soon after the verdict, Khan asked 11 V-Cs to resign saying they were also appointed by a single panel or recommended by the search committee with a non-academician as member of the panel.
Later, the V-Cs approached the high court, which on Tuesday restrained the governor from taking any action till the disposal of their petition.