The West Bengal government has played to the party gallery by announcing yet another change in the matrix for the appointment of Chancellors of universities and Visitors for private entities that have mushroomed on certain campuses, notably technological institutions, over the past few years. Hitherto, the second category of worthies was appointed only in Central universities in the state, pre-eminently Visva-Bharati. Last Tuesday’s bill, which was passed in the West Bengal Assembly, envisages the replacement of the Governor with the higher education minister as a Visitor to private universities. The Bill was greeted with a walkout by Opposition members. This must rank as yet another turning of the screws by Nabanna and quite plainly at the cost of Raj Bhavan. The proposal to appoint the Chief Minister as the Chancellor of state-run universities in place of the Governor was cleared by the House as a piece of legislation on Monday. Predictably, legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed the West Bengal Private University Laws (Amendment) Bill 2022, which was tabled by the higher education minister, Bratya Basu. The Speaker, Biman Banerjee, made an abortive effort to prevent the walkout which materialized when the minister stood up to speak in favour of the Bill. In course of the demonstration outside the House, members of the BJP defended the walkout, saying the government has introduced the Bill forcefully as it wishes to politicize educational institutions.
Since Monday’s voting on the Bill that has appointed the Chief Minister as the Chancellor of state universities had been marked by a bout of controversy, the BJP saw no point in participating in Tuesday’s voting. In the net, the Trinamul Congress has had its way with a decidedly controversial piece of legislation. Whether or not it will improve academics and give an impetus to the motto of Calcutta University ~ advancement of learning ~ is a different issue altogether. It is pretty obvious that Nabanna is trying to settle scores with the Governor, just as it is obvious that a nettlesome Governor may have contributed to this situation. Whether as Chancellor or as Visitor, the appointments are decidedly political. Par- ties and politics will dominate the campus ambience. The pattern of voting also bristles with controversy. The Speaker initially claimed that 40 votes had been cast against the Bill, though the BJP stressed that 57 of its members were present in the House.
Towards the end of the day’s session, it was conceded that 55 votes had been cast against the Bill. The uncertainty deepens with Opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari declaring that “we have decided to move court against this process of voting.” An official of the Assembly is said to have mentioned what he called an error in the procedure. The Speaker has referred to the mistake as “unintentional”, even clarifying that a probe had been ordered. The plot has thickened but the core issue remains unaddressed, specifically that the Chancellor or the Visitor must of necessity enhance the academic ambience. Colleges and universities in West Bengal deserve the best.