Kerala eyes ordinance to oust governor as chancellor

Published on Nov 10, 2022 12:14 AM IST

Amid its ongoing tussle with governor Arif Mohammad Khan, the Kerala government on Wednesday decided to bring an ordinance to divest him of the post of chancellor of state’s universities. Governor Khan said he would duly send the ordinance to the President.

Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan. (PTI)
Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan. (PTI)
By, Thiruvananthapuram

Amid its ongoing tussle with governor Arif Mohammad Khan, the Kerala government on Wednesday decided to bring an ordinance to divest him of the post of chancellor of state’s universities. Governor Khan said he would duly send the ordinance to the President.

The decision was taken at a state cabinet meeting on Wednesday, said the state’s higher education minister R Bindu. According to the draft ordinance, the government plans to appoint experts in the education sector as chancellors.

“Instead of a single chancellor, many will come up 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 after the meeting.

When asked what the government will do if governor Khan refused to sign the ordinance, Bindu said the government will “explore all options if such a situation arose”.

Later, in an interview to a TV news channel, Khan said he would send the ordinance to the President. “Since the ordinance is against me I cannot judge it. So I will send it to the President,” he said, adding that he had expected such a move.

The latest tussle between the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and governor Khan snowballed in August after the latter refused to sign 11 ordinances brought by the government, including one that curtailed the powers of the Lokayukta (anti-corruption ombudsman) and another that curtailed his own powers as chancellor of state universities.

While Khan signed nine ordinances , he held back the ones pertaining to Lokayukta and university appointments.

On October 22, the Supreme Court quashed the appointment of APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University vice chancellor M S Rajashree saying that it was in violation of University Grants Commission (UGC) norms. The court observed that no search committee had been constituted to select a V-C and that three names were not shortlisted before Rajashree was appointed. These violations made Rajashree’s appointment “illegal” and void ab initio (having no legal effect), the court observed.

Soon after the verdict, Khan had asked 11 other V-Cs to resign, saying they were also appointed by a single panel or recommended by a search committee with a non-academician panel member.

All 11 V-Cs approached the high court against the notice. On November 8, the court restrained governor Khan from taking any action till the disposal of their pleas.

According to a state government functionary who did not want to be named, Wednesday’s cabinet discussion on the draft ordinance saw many ministers citing examples of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — where governors were removed as chancellors. They also quoted from the Punchhi Commission report of 2007 to state that governors can be exempted from carrying out chancellor duty in varsities.

But legal experts said the government cannot set a deadline for the governor to sign the ordinance. “Constitutionally speaking, the Governor is bound to go by the advice of the government, but in some states it is not happening,” said former secretary general of Lok Sabha P D T Achary.

According to a state minister, the government is also considering doing away with the Governor’s address which is customary at the start of an assembly session.

The minister, requesting anonymity, said the government plans to call a session in the third week of December and it will continue till the first week of January first week but they are looking to avoid the governor’s address.

The opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticised Wednesday’s decision of the cabinet.

“We are not supporting the Governor but the move will help the ruling party to appoint more party activists through backdoor appointments. We will oppose it in the assembly,” said leader of opposition in the state Assembly, V D Satheesan.

BJP leader M T Ramesh said: “The Governor is getting removed for questioning nepotism in varsities. We have seen the appointment of unqualified relatives of ministers in key posts.”

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