SC stays amendment to University Act to control appointment to academic, administrative posts
The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the Odisha Universities (Amendment) Act, 2020, through which the state government had sought to regulate appointments to important academic and administrative posts in state universities, including recruitment of teaching staff.
A division bench of the SC stayed the Act for the next three months after hearing a petition filed against the Act by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and retired JNU professor Ajit Kumar Mohanty. The court sought a response from the Odisha government and fixed the date for the next hearing on the matter after two months.
In January this year, the Orissa High Court upheld the validity of the Act, dismissing three petitions challenging it. A High Court bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar said the changes made in the process of recruitment of vice-chancellors and teachers for various universities were not unconstitutional.
The Odisha government may amend some of the amendments and will file a fresh affidavit before the Supreme Court within four weeks.
Soon after the stay, a political battle broke out in the state over the Supreme Court’s decision. Congress leader Narsingh Mishra said that the law was opposed in the assembly. Senior BJP leader Vishnu Charan Sethi said the government passed the bill hastily in the assembly.
The ruling party’s Rajya Sabha MP Amar Patnaik said the bill was discussed in the assembly in the presence of all parties. The Supreme Court has adjourned for three months and the state government is interpreting the Supreme Court’s decision. Amar Patnaik said, “We will have to wait for the final verdict of the Supreme Court.”
Professor Binayak Rath, retired vice-chancellor of Utkal University, said: “The amended University Act violates UGC norms. The new amendment curtails the autonomy and independence of universities in the state. As we know, the university is not a department of the state government. Therefore, the government should not interfere in the UGC laws. It will create problems in the higher education system.”
The Amendment Act of 2020, which was notified in the Odisha Gazette and came into force on September 4, 2020, supersedes the Odisha Universities Act and took away the power to recruit teaching staff of state-run universities from the respective senates. Gave it to Odisha Public Service Commission. There are 11 universities in Odisha, which are managed by the state and recognized by the UGC. Some of these universities were established before independence. Utkal University was established in 1943 while Renshaw College, which started in 1868, became a university in 2005.
This year, retired JNU professor Ajit Kumar Mohanty and the University Grants Commission moved the Supreme Court challenging the High Court’s decision. The UGC argued that the state law was contrary to the UGC Regulations-2018 issued under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956.
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