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Bill or no bill? As Kerala govt opts for assembly session, tussle with governor takes new turn

Ordinance removing Kerala governor as chancellor of state universities will lapse unless passed in assembly. Governor Khan himself had suggested the move to CM Vijayan in 2021.

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Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala Cabinet Wednesday recommended to Governor Arif Mohammed Khan to convene a state assembly session from 5 to 15 December. This means that the contentious ordinance, removing the governor as the chancellor of state universities, will either have to be passed as a bill during this session or will stand to lapse.

An ordinance lapses within 42 days of a legislative assembly session being convened unless it is passed during the session as a law. It is compulsory for an assembly session to be called before six months have elapsed since the previous session. Therefore, any ordinance is valid for a maximum of six months.

The question of whether Governor Khan will or won’t sign the ordinance terminating the position of the governor as chancellor may have not become moot but government officials point out that through a particularly bitter period of exchanges with the government last year, Governor Khan himself had apparently pitched the idea in multiple letters to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, copies of two of which are with ThePrint.

ThePrint reached Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and his office over the phone, email and WhatsApp but did not get a response at the time of publication. This report will be updated when a response is received.

According to state law minister P. Rajeev, no decision has been taken yet on whether such a bill should be brought in the short time available before the session commences or whether comprehensive legislation should be brought incorporating the recommendations of a committee formed to look at matters related to higher education.

“A bill will most probably be brought in this session. But a final decision has not been taken. You see, the state government had formed an expert committee on higher education that had recommended that the governor should not be chancellor of universities and instead, there should be an expert in the field who should hold that post. We have to decide whether we want to bring piecemeal legislation or one comprehensive one incorporating that and other recommendations,” Rajeev told ThePrint.

The Kerala government and the Raj Bhavan have been at loggerheads with each other for several weeks now, first over “irregularities” — as alleged by Governor Khan — in the appointment of vice-chancellors of Kerala universities and in the last few days, over this ordinance that the governor has refused to ratify on the grounds that it “targets” him.

Governor Khan, who has been on trips outside Kerala since 12 November and is set to return on 20 November, has said that he will send the ordinance to the President.

Government officials say that even if such a bill is passed, it will need the governor’s signature, encountering the same roadblock as the ordinance. A state minister who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint: “The government has already stated that there is no bar in bringing a bill even if the ordinance is pending before the President. The assembly has its rights. The governor can choose not to sign it. It has happened in other states and it has also happened here.”

According to state government sources, six bills are awaiting a nod from the Thiruvananthapuram Raj Bhawan, of which two — The University Laws (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021 and The University Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021 — have been pending for over a year since November 12, 2021. Both bills provide for the constitution of appellate tribunals and consultative committees in some state universities.

Also Read: In Thiruvananthapuram, a call to abolish governors as DMK, NCP join LDF’s protest against Khan

‘Promise’ to sign ordinance 

In one of his two letters to CM Vijayan, Governor Khan had even promised to sign the ordinance immediately were the state government willing to entertain the proposal.

Pointing out that the government, in passing certain amendments, would have “absolute power” to appoint appellate tribunals in universities without reference either to the chancellor or the high court, Governor Khan wrote to Vijayan in a letter dated December 8, 2021: “In these circumstances, my advice to you is to amend the Acts of the universities and you personally assume the position of the chancellor, so that you can carry out your political objectives without any dependence on governor. 

“Once the universities come under the direct control of the government, there will be no scope for anybody to make allegations of political interference. Since the assembly is not in session, you can go for an ordinance and I promise that I shall sign the same immediately.” 

Reiterating that position, he wrote a day later: “I have already shared in my earlier letter dated December 8, 2021, that in the circumstances it has become impossible for me to discharge my duties as chancellor in accordance with the requirements of laws and rules. Therefore, I had requested you to make legal arrangements to take over as chancellor of the universities of Kerala that will be helpful in the sense that you shall have a free hand to steer the ship of higher education in Kerala in a manner that you deem fit. 

“I stand by my decision that I shall not be a party to this game plan which gives precedence to party interest over the interest of students and the academic community which in my opinion is ruining the higher education sector in Kerala…”

Referring to the letters, law minister Rajeev said: “That was the earlier position that he had communicated to us. We have not had any communication from the governor on the current ordinance. It has only been through the media. It is our position that there should be structure in communication between the governor and the government.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Rumble with Dhankhar a thing of the past, TMC in no mood to back DMK’s plea against TN governor


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