Kolkata: The West Bengal cabinet has made a unanimous decision to replace Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as the chancellor of all state universities, state Education Minister Bratya Basu said Thursday.
“We will be introducing a bill with the necessary amendments in the assembly soon,” Basu said, addressing the media at the State Secretariat.
Sources in the West Bengal government said if the governor doesn’t give his assent to the bill, the administration “will take the ordinance route”.
The tussle over university administration is the latest flashpoint between Mamata and Dhankhar, who are known to share an acrimonious relationship.
Asked about the Bengal government’s decision, Union Minister of State for Education Subhas Sarkar said the Centre is looking into University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines before initiating any action.
“The education system should be above politics, this is the last nail in the coffin. The ruling party (Trinamool Congress) will now be handling all the affairs of the universities and colleges in the state, this is complete politicisation of the education system in West Bengal,” he added.
“One must realise, in the future there will be a new chief minister and this could prove to be a disaster. That, too, at a time when the state government is facing a CBI probe over School Service Commission (SSC) appointment irregularities. This kind of decision is unheard of across the country. We are looking into the UGC guidelines and will take action as if required,” he said.
A similar controversy had erupted in Tamil Nadu in April where, amid a standoff between the DMK government and Governor R.N. Ravi, the assembly passed a bill to empower the state administration to appoint vice-chancellors to state universities.
Latest flashpoint between TMC, governor
Governor Dhankhar is the ex-officio chancellor of all state universities.
The role of a governor as chancellor is laid out by statutes governing universities that fall under the ambit of state governments. As chancellors, Governors take decisions on all state university-related matters, independent of the council of ministers.
On 30 December 2021, Dhankhar took to Twitter to allege that due process had not been followed in the appointment of vice-chancellors to 24 universities in the state.
The same month, after chancellors and vice-chancellors of private universities in West Bengal failed to show up at a meeting called by him at Raj Bhavan citing Covid-19 protocols, Dhankhar termed their absence “shocking unionism”.
In April 2022, the governor sought a report from West Bengal Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi over a viral video of the Aliah University vice-chancellor purportedly being heckled by students. Governor Dhankhar had faced similar protests during the convocations of Calcutta University in January 2020 and Jadavpur University in December 2019.
Opposition CPI(M) termed the cabinet’s decision “unfortunate”.
“It is very clear that Mamata Banerjee wants to control everything in this state, so why leave out the universities? Is she even qualified to handle that post?” CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)