The Supreme Court, on September 28 2023, said that it would set up a search committee for shortlisting and appointing vice-chancellors in 13 state-run universities of West Bengal. It asked the state governor, the state government and the University Grant Commission (UGC) to suggest three to five names of renowned scientists, technocrats, administrators, educationists, and other eminent individuals for inclusion in a selection panel to make these appointments. They have been asked to submit the names by October 4, 2023.
A Two judge bench of Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Suryakant was hearing a special leave petition filed by the West Bengal government under article 138 of the constitution.The state government petition challenged the June 28, 2023 order of the Calcutta High Court, which said there was no illegality in the appointment of 13 state-run universities vice-chancellors by the state governor C V Ananda Bose.The Governor is the Chancellor of the state universities.
State governors are the ex officio chancellors of the state universities. Based on the guidelines of the University Grant Commission, a search committee is set up which recommends a panel of names to the chancellor for appointment as vice-chancellor. The chancellor has the discretion to select a person from the panel of names suggested by the search panel.
In West Bengal, the Governor has not accepted the names suggested by the search committee and has refused to give his assent. According to the Governor, the recommended persons are the ruling party's nominee, and they will destroy the state education system.
The Supreme Court has also held that the state government cannot appoint a vice chancellor, which has not been approved by the Chancellor. In the Gambhirdan K. Gadhvi vs. State of Gujarat 2022, the Supreme Court held that if there is a conflict between the UGC guidelines and the state government law, then the UGC guideline will prevail.
As per the provision of the article 254 of the constitution if there is a conflict between the provision of the central and state law on subject matter which is listed in the concurrent list then the central law will prevail over the state law.Education is in the concurrent list.
State government law
To reduce the power of the Governor, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023. The bill seeks to make the chief minister of the state the chancellor of the state universities. It also provides for the constitution of a search committee. The bill has not been signed and returned by the Governor. Thus, it is yet to become a law.
Last year, the Calcutta High Court ruled that the West Bengal Amendment Act 2018 was contrary to the UGC guidelines of 2018 and, hence, it was illegal. Appointment of vice-chancellor under the act was held illegal. It led to the resignation of the vice-chancellors in the state. The state government issued West Bengal University (amendment ) ordinance to comply with the UGC guidelines.
Later, the state government's higher education ministry submitted a name of 27 people to be appointed as the interim vice chancellor candidates to the Governor.
The Governor accepted only two names and appointed 13 interim vice chancellors without consulting the state government.
This act of the Governor was challenged by the state government in the Calcutta High Court. The High Court upheld the Governor's power to appoint the interim vice-chancellor. The state government challenged the High Court ruling in the Supreme Court.
West Bengal Chief Minister: Mamta Banerjee