Almost all state-funded universities in Karnataka have been for a long time in need of a major surgery to cure their many ills. One of the last legislations brought in by the Siddaramaiah government before the end of its tenure, and passed by legislature The Karnataka State Universities Bill, 2017 could have helped perform the surgery. Unfortunately, it fell below expectations. On the positive side, it brings all 22 state universities, while excluding the agricultural universities and the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS), currently functioning under seven separate Acts, under one umbrella law. The government hopes to put an end to rampant corruption in universities in purchase of materials by entrusting all purchases of more than Rs 1 crore value to a common committee. To bring transparency in the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff, the new legislation makes it mandatory to hold written examinations, followed by interviews with shortlisted candidates which are to be videographed and uploaded on university websites.
Still, the overarching purpose of the legislation seems to be to curtail the powers of the governor in the appointment of vice chancellors. As many as seven universities are currently without vice chancellors as Governor Vajubhai Vala has stalled the appointments, finding those recommended to be political appointees lacking in merit. Through the new legislation, the government has sought to deny the governor say in the matter. It will now send him only one name for appointment, instead of three to choose from. The legislation also makes it mandatory for the governor to accept a name sent for the second time. The governor, who is the chancellor of universities, was supposed to offer a check on arbitrary selections, but the new Bill makes the government supreme and opens up room for favouritism. Considering that nine former vice chancellors are facing corruption charges and eight others have been slapped with criminal cases and none of them has gone to jail so far, thanks to their political clout it becomes clear that the government only wants to assert its authority and hardly has any intention to clean up the mess in the universities.
Even the measure to entrust all purchases above Rs 1 crore to a committee appointed by the government, with an avowed purpose of ending corruption, is unlikely to achieve its objective. Worse, since the committee is to be filled only with bureaucrats, it is bound to erode the autonomy of universities. The remedy for our universities lay in devising stringent guidelines for the appointment of well-qualified vice chancellors who have their moral compass intact. The new legislation is unlikely to help this cause.