A headless UGC: Why the Centre's hunt to appoint a chairman is taking time
Even after six months, the post of the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) chairman remains vacant. Professor VS Chauhan, a commission member, has been holding charge as interim chairperson since April when Prof Ved Prakash’s tenure ended.
A casual vacancy
Even Chauhan's tenure as interim chairperson ended on 4 October. The charge was given to him for a period of six months in April 2017. As per UGC Act, 1956, the vice-chairman will take charge as chairman in case of a “casual vacancy”.
Since the vice-chairman’s post is also vacant, the law provides that the government can “appoint any other member to act as the Chairman, and the person so appointed shall not hold the office of Chairman for a period exceeding six months.”
The government has not yet announced appointments for key positions of Chairman and Vice-Chairman in the UGC that regulates the functioning and standards of education in almost 800 universities and 40,000 colleges in India.
The favour game
Interestingly, Catch learnt that the search-cum-selection committee (SCSC) for the appointment of UGC chairperson led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's yoga instructor HR Nagendra, had shortlisted four names for the appointment and submitted the names to HRD minister Prakash Javdekar in June.
A ministry official confirmed to Catch that a shortlisted name has not yet been sent to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet for final appointment.
Catch had also learnt the names in the list include National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) chairman DP Singh, Former Vice-Chancellor of Himachal Pradesh University ADN Bajpai, Delhi Technological University vice-chancellor Yogesh Singh and V Tawde from Maharashtra. An Indian Express report said that Prof A K Singh of IGNOU was also a part of the list.
Other than Nagendra, the SCSC also had former Lucknow University vice-chancellor D P Singh and former head of Saurashtra University KP Joshipura as members.
“All the names selected by the selection panel are of people who are fairly close to the ruling-government. Hence, the government is finding it hard to select a particular name that will be best suited to run the institution amongst names who are all supporters. They’re finding it hard to find a candidate to suits the bill both in terms of their ideological obligations as well as retain their public image of appointing a person of appropriate merit," Ramesh Dadhich, former member secretary of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) told Catch.
Rajib Ray, an eminent professor in Delhi University and the President of Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), says, “One can safely say that all the names recommended for the job are pro-BJP or pro-government. One can clearly speculate that different lobbies within the right wing are trying to push for each of these candidates or at least some of them. Otherwise what is the reason for the delay? There is a fight going on within the family for the appointment.”
A UGC member told Catch, “Names have been selected by the panel; discussions have been had at the ministry level. It’s high time now that the chairman and vice chairman are appointed. We were expecting that the announcement would have been made before the extended term of Prof Chauhan ends.”
The post of chairman and vice-chairman will be a significant one in the current circumstances since a committee has been set up to review all existing UGC regulations and recommend scrapping of obsolete ones. The UGC is also working to encourages autonomy in universities and even privatise higher education centres in the country.
The post of vice-chairman has been vacant too since Professor H Debaraj completed his tenure in March this year. The post of member secretary in the 11-member commission is also lying vacant. JS Sandhu, the secretary till August, has joined as the vice-chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. PK Thakur has since been officiating as the secretary.
The new chairperson will also spearhead the process of restructuring the UGC, as announced in the Budget. This process is expected to radically change higher education in the country, though whether it will be for the good is still a moot point.