Issues

AMU Kishanganj campus

By S.A.T.Rizvi, IAS (Retd.)
satrizvi25feb@gmail.com

 Ghair mumkin hai kay haalaat kee guththi suljhay
Ahle daanish nay bahut soch kay uljhaya hai

A news item published in MG (16-30 Sept.) brings to light the mischief initiated in the office of the Visitor of the AMU who happens to be the President of India. The pity is that the HRDM, without application of mind, passed on the buck to the Ministry of Law (MoL).

Clearly since two AMU centres have already been set up in the past in accordance with the existing provisions of the relevant law, the MHRD could and should have referred the matter back to the Visitor without loss of time. This was not done – ostensibly to delay matters and in the hope that the MoL will take the hint and invent some kind of excuse so as to ensure that the project does not take off.

But who cares? More so because a “secular” government is in place, and the matter relates to a minority-led institution. The MoL, apparently without assigning any reason, advised that the matter being sub-judice, further action be stayed. MHRD agreed without demur as if the MoL advice received was so very welcome.

Quite obviously, the MoL has been allowed to usurp the role of the court. It needs to be pointed out that the MoL is just like any other ministry of the GoI, and its opinion by no means has the status of an order of a competent court of law.

That being the case, the MHRD should have over-ruled the MoL opinion and advised the Visitor accordingly. However, if, for reasons of their own, the MHRD wished to play safe, the opinion of the Attorney General should have been obtained to test the soundness of the opinion given by the MoL. But our bureaucracy is not in the habit of taking pains in examining issues before them, and our ministers are Lords who are supposed to wake up only when the government is about to fall.

In this case, in the absence of any knowledge about what actually weighed with the Visitor when (s)he desired that the MoL’s views be obtained, I can only say that the entire exercise undertaken by the government was misconceived ab-initio and intended to thwart the setting up of the AMU centre in question.

Just because a petition is pending, action to implement a project cannot be stopped. The aggrieved party (the petitioner) can always approach the court for the grant of stay. No such thing appears to have taken place in this case.

In this context, I am reminded of a case in which as the Principal Secretary of a department in the U.P. government about two decades ago, I had the Law Department’s opinion over-ruled by my minister. In that case, the Law Deptt. sought to scale down the major penalty proposed by me to be imposed on an erring officer. I had then taken the same plea, namely, that there can be no difficulty in over-ruling an opinion expressed by another deptt. of the government.

II

In the light of the AMU Act, the powers of the Visitor have been laid down in Section 13. The section in question has the words “THE VISITOR” prominently displayed on its top in bold letters. Under this section, for good reasons, his powers have been confined to inspection and inquiry, and what is more, to annul, under certain circumstances, any proceeding of the university. The last mentioned power is, on the face of it, draconian in nature and scope. However, without offering any comment on the need to have such a provision, it is possible to argue that, with this provision in place, there was no need to empower the Visitor as in Section 12(2) of the Act, for, in the event of things going wrong, such as when a decision to open a new centre is taken by an Authority other than the Visitor himself, he (the Visitor) could effectively intervene by exercising the authority vested in him under Section 13(6) of the Act which empowers him to annul any proceeding of the university.

Again, it is implicit in the scheme of things that the opening of a new centre, as in the present case, would necessitate some modification in the relevant provisions of the university statutes. That being so, the Visitor could as well intervene in the matter at the stage of granting his approval to modifications proposed in the existing statutes vide powers vested in him under Section 28(6). In view of this, I am unable to appreciate the wisdom in empowering the Visitor specifically for the purpose in the manner sought to be done under Section 12(2) of the Act. This is, according to me, to use a charitable term, sheer cussedness on the part of the bureaucrats in the MHRD working in league with the Law Ministry who didn’t want to miss any opportunity to create obstacles in the way of the AMU moving forward.

Lastly, as per section 13(7), the Visitor could also be empowered in respect of matters other than those provided in section 13(1) to 13(6), and this can be done through statute change, and the power to effect changes in the statutes is vested in the university court. Though changes in the statutes can be brought about only with the Visitor’s approval as stated, considering the superior status of the Visitor, being the President of India, it does look a tad odd that the university court, a formation inferior to the President, should be permitted to initiate steps, such as proposing a statute change so as to empower the President himself as thought appropriate.

I am inclined to hold the view that whatever powers are required to be vested in the Visitor/President of India should necessarily be made part of section 13 of the Act instead of saying something about it in section 12(2) and thereafter leaving it to the good sense of the AMU court to try to patronise the Visitor/President of India by proposing grant of some additional powers to him by way of statute change.

The opening of a new centre of a long established university is, in any scheme of things, a small matter involving a nominal expenditure compared to the usual scales of governmental expenditures. It is, therefore, not worth wasting the valuable time of the President merely for the sake of a formal approval. The Government should - and they can always do so - modify, if it is necessary so to do, the transaction of business rules concerning the MHRD so that such small matters get decided at an appropriate level within the confines of the MHRD.

The writer is a former Secretary to Govt. of India

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2012 on page no. 2

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