Kolkata: The West Bengal assembly Monday passed a Bill that proposes to replace the governor with the chief minister as chancellor of 32 state-aided universities. The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill 2022 was passed amid protests by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators — who claim the governor won’t give his assent.
Citing the 2010 Punchhi Commission report on Centre-State relations, the Bill says, “The governor should not be burdened with positions and powers which are not envisaged under the Constitution, and which may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. His role should be confined to the constitutional provisions only.”
Of members present and voting in the Vidhan Sabha, 182 voted in favour of the Bill and 40 against it. During the two-hour long debate, BJP legislators claimed that this was an attempt to politicise the post of chancellor.
However, education minister Bratya Basu dismissed the allegation, saying that the prime minister of the country is the chancellor of a central university [Visva Bharati], so there’s nothing wrong with a chief minister becoming chancellor of state-run universities.
The ball will now be in the governor’s court as the legislation will require his assent to become a law. Speaking to the media earlier, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar said he would comment on the Bill once it’s sent to Raj Bhavan for his consideration and he goes through the contents of the amendment.
Speaking to ThePrint at the Vidhan Sabha, the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, the leader of the opposition, said, “You write it down: Mamata Banerjee will retire from the post of chief minister but will never become chancellor. The governor will send the Bill to Delhi as education matters are on the concurrent list. The Bill will not get clearance in Delhi. We will request the governor on 20 June not to pass this Bill.”
Basu, while speaking to the media in the Vidhan Sabha after the passage of the Bill, slammed the BJP and said, “The BJP Legislators have already spoken about the future of the Bill. It seems they are dictating to the governor what to do. Why would the governor not sign the Bill? We are an elected government; what is there for the governor to oppose in this?”
Bills pending at Raj Bhavan
At least two Bills are pending with Raj Bhavan that Governor Dhankhar hasn’t cleared thus far.
The West Bengal Prevention of Lynching Bill was passed in the Assembly in August 2019. But in a series of letters exchanged between the Mamata Banerjee government and Raj Bhavan, Dhankhar highlighted that the draft contained life imprisonment while the Bill provided for the death penalty. The governor hasn’t signed the Bill till date.
The Howrah Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill 2021 — a Bill to bifurcate Bally from Howrah municipality — is also still under consideration by Dhankhar under Article 200 of the Constitution, which empowers a governor to either give or withhold assent to a Bill passed by a state legislature, or to reserve it for the President’s consideration.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)