Remodelling Universities 

A draft bill is making sweeping changes in the system of managing the universities in Jammu and Kashmir, reports Yawar Hussain

The newly formulated Jammu and Kashmir Public Universities Bill 2022 has proposed to give more financial and administrative control of the state universities to the government. This is a major departure from the status quo in which the varsities had substantial autonomy in these matters.

The bill brought in by the Administrative Council headed by the Jammu and Kashmir’s Lt Governor would be tabled in parliament for discussion. Once passed, the act will repeal the Kashmir and Jammu Universities Act 1969. Except those run by the central government directly, all the universities operating in Jammu and Kashmir will be guided by the new bill.

Checking Finances

The Jammu and Kashmir Public Universities Bill 2022 has proposed to shift almost all financial powers to the Jammu and Kashmir government’s administrative department of Finance. The Administrative Secretary of Finance, as per the new bill, would be the head of the new Finance and Audit Committee of the universities while the Vice Chancellor would be the Co-Chairperson. The committee wasn’t in existence under the earlier universities act.

The committee would, as per the act, frame the budget estimates of the University; hold, control and administer the funds, property, and other assets of the University; invest any money belonging to the University concerned; recommend to the Governing Council the plans for the development and expansion of the University; accept donations, bequests, or transfer any movable or immovable property on behalf of the University concerned; exercise such other powers and perform such other financial duties as may be assigned to it by this Act; to delegate, whenever necessary, appropriate financial powers to the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, the Registrar, the Head of the Post-graduate Departments, the Controller of Examinations, or any other officer of the University concerned.

Along with this new committee, the bill proposes a new post of Finance Officer who would be appointed by the Jammu and Kashmir government on a deputation basis while his remuneration and allowances would be paid by the University.

Along with the Administrative Secretary of Finance, the Finance Officer would be a member of the Finance and Audit committee. The bill has accorded new powers to the Finance Officer including general supervision of the University funds along with advising the Vice-Chancellor on the financial matters of the University. He will hold and manage the funds, property, and investments, including trust and endowed property, for furthering the objectives of the University along with monitoring the state of the cash and bank balances and investments.

The officer will manage revenue by regulating the process and progress of the collection of revenue and advise the Vice-Chancellor on the methods to be employed in this regard. He will get the accounts of the University audited regularly and ensure that no expenditure, not authorized in the budget, is incurred by the University. Besides, he will ensure that no other financial irregularity is committed along with taking steps to correct “irregularities” pointed out during an audit.

The Registrar would be the third member of the Finance and Audit Committee. However, the new bill has thrown a catch in the appointment of the Registrar of the universities as well. Earlier, the varsities used to appoint Registrars through a committee formed by the Vice Chancellor but now the government would nominate any serving officer of the administrative services or any eligible serving civil servant to act as the Registrar on a deputation basis. While the government would now control the finances, it would also have administrative control through the Registrar.

Under the in-vogue Universities Act, the Syndicate had the power to hold, control and administer the funds, property and other assets of the University which the new bill has given to the Finance and Audit Committee.

Controlling Management

In the existing Universities Act, the Registrar used to work with the approval of the Vice-Chancellor on administrative matters while the new bill has completely taken away the “prior approval” clause making the Registrar all-powerful.

“The Registrar of University shall, subject to the sanction of the Vice-Chancellor and subject to the Regulations that may be framed in this behalf, control the ministerial, technical and inferior staff of the University concerned,” the Universities Act 1969 read.

However, the new bill states that the Registrar would be the “appointing and disciplinary authority” of the employees of the University other than the teachers, non-vacation academic staff, and officers of the rank of Assistant Registrar.

The new bill has also omitted an important clause from the previous Act which gave the Vice Chancellor control over the functioning of the registrar.

The previous Act stated, “The Registrar shall, in the execution of his duties, be subject to the immediate direction and control of the Vice-Chancellor.” This has now been dropped while the new bill has granted the Registrar the powers to seek “information in regard to any matter of the University, from the Deans, Finance and Accounts Officer, and any other officers of the University for submission to the Government.”

The new bill has replaced the University Council with a Governing Council. The University Council’s top six members included the Chancellor; the Pro-Chancellor; the Education Minister; the Vice-Chancellor of the University concerned; the Vice-Chancellor of the other University established under that Act; and the Financial Advisor.

The Governing Council under the new bill has omitted the posts of Pro-Chancellor; Education Minister and the Vice Chancellor of other universities while the J&K administration’s Chief Secretary has been added as the new member.

The new bill has added the Registrar and the Finance Officer as members of the Academic Council who would both be government-deputed civil servants unlike in the 1969 Act Registrar wasn’t a member of the Academic Council and the Finance Officer post didn’t exist.

Lost Wings

The Vice-Chancellor who used to be the most powerful official in running the day-to-day affairs of the universities in Jammu and Kashmir has survived diminished in importance in the proposed law.

The curtailed powers include the Vice-Chancellor’s emergency powers, as per the previous act, to take any action which he thinks need immediate action. The Vice-Chancellor’s powers of appointment, dismissal and suspension of the ministerial, technical and inferior staff have also been clipped, which would now be exercised by the government-appointed administrative officer in the position of the Registrar.

A rare photograph of the University of Jammu and Kashmir convocation on September 24, 1949. The rare photograph shows the arrival of Pandit Nehru, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad and the VC of the University Justice Masood Hussain

In financial matters where the Vice-Chancellor ruled the roost, he has been made just the co-chairperson of the newly proposed Finance and Audit Committee, which would be headed by the administrative secretary of finance along with two other members, the Registrar and Finance Officer, who would both be on deputation from bureaucracy.

In the Governing Council, the Chancellor would have the power to appoint, after consulting the Government, any eminent and qualified scholar as Professor or Associate Professor in the University on a contract basis for one year which can be extended. Earlier, under the 1969 Act, the Vice Chancellor had the power in the University Council to appoint such people for six months post which they needed an extension.

Chancellor’s New Avatar

The Jammu and Kashmir’s Lt Governor, who is the current Chancellor of the varsities in the union territory, has been accorded additional powers in the new bill, which would bring to the fore a new avatar of the constitutional head.

Earlier act accorded him to preside over the meetings of the University Council and at the Convocations of the Universities along with every proposal for the conferment of any honorary degree being assented by him.

However, the new bill while retaining the powers of the Chancellor from the previous act has also accorded powers of removing the Vice-Chancellor under certain provisions. As per the new bill, the Chancellor would be empowered to call for any “paper or information” relating to the University along with initiating suo motu action, in any matter, as he deems fit in the interest of the University or students or larger interest of the public.

“His directions (in the matter) shall be final and shall be complied with by the University forthwith,” the new bill states.

LG Manoj Sinha awarded degree to a student during the 19th annual convocation of the University of Kashmir at Srinagar on Wednesday August 25, 2021

Also, the bill grants Chancellor the new power, after taking a report in writing from the Vice-Chancellor, or suo motto, to suspend or modify any resolution, order, or proceeding of any authority, body, committee, or officer which, in his opinion, is not in conformity with this Act, Statutes, Ordinances or Regulations of the University.

The Chancellor, as per the new bill, can “disqualify” any member elected or nominated or appointed or co-opted if he/she is “detrimental to the smooth functioning of the University or any authority or body or committee”.

The added powers of the Chancellor include the power to dismiss, remove or reduce in rank any officer, member of the officer cadre, teacher, or any employee of any category or any part-time, casual, or temporary employee, including pensioners of the University who he deems “has/had acted in a manner prejudicial to the security of the State or the unity and integrity of the Country and is satisfied that in the interest of the security of the State it is not expedient to hold an inquiry.”

The new bill has also given the Chancellor the power to initiate an inspection or inquiry in which he can appoint a representative who shall have the right to be heard in this exercise.

“If the University fails to offer any explanation within the time specified or offers an explanation which in the opinion of the Chancellor is unsatisfactory, the Chancellor may issue such instructions as appear to him to be necessary and desirable in the circumstances of the case and may exercise such powers as may be necessary for giving effect to these instructions,” the new bill reads.

Conspicuously Missing Pro-Chancellor

The chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir used to be the Pro-Chancellor of the university and the new powers vested now in the bill to the Chancellor were previously exercised by him/her.

While the previous act provided for the delegation of powers from the Chancellor to the Pro-Chancellor, the new bill doesn’t provide any such provision in which the Chancellor would delegate his powers to the Pro-Chancellor. In fact, the bill has omitted the position of the Pro-Chancellor along with omitting the education minister from various committees of the university to which he/she was a member as per the Universities Act in force.

Trust Run Universities

The new bill has proposed that the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University will have two members in the Governing Council who would be chosen by the shrine board. For other universities, the bill has proposed two persons nominated by the Chancellor, out of a panel submitted by the Higher Education Department who are eminent academicians or persons of scholarly pursuit.

In the cases of the Islamic University of Science and Technology and Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, these two members are to be selected by the Higher Education Department after consulting the Department of the Government entrusted with the subject of Auqaf.

In the newly proposed Management Council, the Registrar has been made the Member-Secretary for all universities barring the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University (SMVDU), Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) and Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU).

The new bill has proposed that the SMVDU would have the Chief Executive Officer of the Shrine Board as a permanent member of the Management Council. In the case of IUST and BGSBU, the Chief Executive Officer of the Waqf Board will be a permanent member of the Management Council.

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