In Bihar, a Grand Alliance-era tussle follows CM Nitish to his new NDA government | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

In Bihar, a Grand Alliance-era tussle follows CM Nitish to his new NDA government

Apr 01, 2024 09:33 PM IST

Raj Bhavan and the state education department are at loggerheads over a meeting of all VCs because of who is chairing it. Meanwhile, varsity work is on hold

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar is dealing with a strange issue, which has spilt over from the previous Grand Alliance (government) and remains as yet unsettled: A power tussle between the Raj Bhavan and the state education department over control of state universities.

The meeting last week called by the department of education turned out to be a damp squib despite the presence of pro-vice chancellors, registrars, exam controllers, financial advisors and finance officers (Representative Image) PREMIUM
The meeting last week called by the department of education turned out to be a damp squib despite the presence of pro-vice chancellors, registrars, exam controllers, financial advisors and finance officers (Representative Image)

As per the varsity Acts, the Chancellor (the Governor) is the academic and administrative head of the universities and has the power to appoint vice-chancellors, Pro-VCs and other authorities in the universities. The state government has the power to provide grants.

Ever since additional chief secretary KK Pathak took over the reins of the department less than a year ago, Raj Bhavan and the department of education have been at loggerheads. Last year, chief minister Nitish Kumar (then as part of the Grand Alliance) had to intervene to defuse the crisis over the appointment of vice-chancellors.

Pathak also got into a logjam with the then-education minister Chandrashekar (who belonged to the Rashtriya Janata Dal, an ally of the JD-U in the GA government). Despite a meeting between Chandrashekhar and Nitish, it was Pathak who remained in the department and Chandrashekhar who eventually left. He has, at times, even refused to implement the orders of the CM, such as sticking to the existing school timing of 9am to 5pm even though Nitish Kumar had announced on the floor of the House that it would be changed to 10am to 4pm. In his tenure so far, three education ministers have come and gone. In his previous stint in the education department in 2009, he was at loggerheads with the then Governor, the late Devanand Konwar.

More recently, nearly half a dozen meetings called by the department with VCs and others in varsities have been cancelled in the last six months.

So what happened last week?

The meeting last week called by the department of education turned out to be a damp squib despite the presence of pro-vice chancellors, registrars, exam controllers, financial advisors and finance officers from all state universities ahead of time at the venue (Hotel Maurya), as the vice-chancellors did not turn up on the direction of the Governor.

A direction to VCs reached them late Wednesday evening (the meeting-cum-orientation was supposed to take place starting Thursday, March 28), after it came to be known that the minister would not preside. The higher education director Rekha Kumari sent a letter to all officials on March 23 stating that the education minister would hold the meeting. The Governor, Rajendra Arlekar, who also holds the post of the Chancellor of state universities, had also permitted the VCs to attend the meeting after Kumar met him. Later that day, another letter went out in which Kumar’s reference was removed.

A department official, who did not want to be quoted, explained the minister’s absence on account of the model code of conduct, which came into force on March 16 with the announcement of Lok Sabha elections. He, however, did not elaborate why the first letter that went out on March 23 stated that the education minister would conduct the meeting.

“We were present at the venue, but there was a clear instruction to us that without VCs, the meeting would not be held. Therefore, despite the presence of many university officials, the meeting did not materialise. Some of the university officials from distant universities had overnight stay in the hotel in anticipation of the meeting, but they also left without any discussion after lunchtime,” the official quoted above added.

Most of them had come from different districts after obtaining permission from the Raj Bhavan, too.

The board and banner remained up.

“The Pro-VCs, registrars and finance officers were there to discuss whatever the department wanted. We had also gone with files. We can understand the minister’s absence. In the same way, the department should also understand that VCs cannot be called by officials for a meeting, as per protocol. A VC is the Chancellor’s nominee,” said a university official who had travelled to Patna for the meeting.

A financial tug-of-war

The power tussle between the state government and the Raj Bhavan is not new in Bihar — in fact, it is precisely because of this that the government made the CM as Chancellor of the new universities. However, in the old state universities, the Governor remains Chancellor. In 2010-11, the tussle over the appointment of VCs had escalated to the Supreme Court, which asked the CM and Governor to consult with each other on appointments. However, the Chancellor’s supremacy in the university matters remains intact. Recently, in a similar issue between the Kerala government and the Governor, the SC ruled that “the Governor as a Chancellor of a state university must act independently”.

On March 2, education secretary Baidyanath Yadav called a meeting to discuss varsity-related issues. None of the VCs turned up on the directions of the Chancellor. Following this, Yadav shot off a sharply worded letter, seeking an explanation from the VCs, registrars, exam controllers and others who didn’t come to the meeting. He also issued an order to stop their salary and freeze the bank accounts of the universities. The department was also ordered to lodge FIRs against them, but FIRs were not lodged after the intervention of high-ups.

However, the Chancellor took exception to the “intemperate language” used in the letter and the Raj Bhavan quashed the department’s freeze order, informing the treasury officials as well as the banks about it. Later, the Raj Bhavan also wrote to the Chief Secretary, seeking action against education department officials for their “wanton interference in the academic and administrative matters of universities and use of indecent language”. It further sought a compliance report.

Pathak, on his part, has stuck to his stand and is getting letters issued through department officials. After the March 28-29 meeting did not materialise, higher education director Rekha Kumari, late Thursday evening, issued letters to all the registrars about the auditing of university accounts and verification of bank accounts for the last three financial years. She also sought that the desired records be made available to the designated auditors of each university. The letter referred to the department’s previous order to freeze the bank accounts of the universities, which was quashed by the Governor, and has sought a report within a week. Neither Rekha Kumari nor Sunil Kumar were available for comments.

Protocol puts varsities in the dock

Meanwhile, the Chancellor has been holding his regular meetings with the VCs to streamline the delayed academic sessions in many universities. Yadav also attended a meeting at the Raj Bhawan and was directed to take steps to ensure timely payment of salary and pension, and other retirement benefits. The universities blame it on delays in grants from the government and the freeze orders, while the department says the universities do not submit proper and timely budgets.

The tussle between the Raj Bhavan and the government is not new, but Pathak seems to unite politicians across party lines. In an unprecedented move in December last year, 25 members of the Bihar Legislative Council cutting across party lines met the Governor to submit a memorandum against the “unconstitutional and autocratic orders of the education department” and sought their quashing.

The matter had escalated after the education department issued orders to stop the salary and pension of Federation of University Teachers’ Association of Bihar (FUTAB) working president Kanhaiya Bahadur and general secretary Sanjay Kumar, also an MLC (member of the Legislative Council), for their remarks against the order that college and university teachers should also mandatorily take five classes each day and strike off names of students remaining absent for more than three days.

Last year, Pathak triggered a row when he issued parallel advertisements for the appointment of vice-chancellors after the Raj Bhavan had already done so. He eventually withdrew them after the CM intervened.

Due to Pathak’s style of functioning, he was at loggerheads with the former BPSC Chairman Atul Prasad over document verification of teacher aspirants before results. Then too the CM was called in to defuse the crisis.

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    Arun Kumar is Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times. He has spent two-and-half decades covering Bihar, including politics, educational and social issues.

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