SC suspends amendment to Universities Act to control appointment to academic and administrative posts

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The Supreme Court on Friday suspended the Odisha Universities (Amendment) Act 2020 by which the state government had sought to control appointment to important academic and administrative posts in state universities, including including the recruitment of teaching staff.

A divisional SC bench suspended the law for the next three months after hearing a petition filed against the law by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and retired JNU professor Ajit Kumar Mohanty. The court requested a response from the Odisha government and set a date for the next hearing on the matter after two months.

In January this year, the High Court in Orissa upheld the validity of the law, dismissing three petitions challenging it. The high court bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar observed that changes to the procedure for recruiting vice-chancellors and teachers for various universities were not unconstitutional.

The Government of Odisha may modify certain amendments and will file a new affidavit before the SC within four weeks.

Shortly after the stay, a political war broke out in the state over the Supreme Court’s decision. Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said the law was opposed to the Assembly. BJP leader Bishnu Charan Sethi said the government hastily passed the bill in the assembly.

Ruling Rajya Sabha MP Amar Patnaik said the bill was discussed in the presence of all parties in the Assembly. The Supreme Court adjourned for three months and the state government is interpreting the Supreme Court’s verdict. “We have to wait for the Supreme Court’s final decision,” said Amar Patnaik.

Retired Vice Chancellor of Utkal University, Prof Binayak Rath said: “The revised University Law violates UGC rules. The new amendment minimizes the autonomy and freedom of state universities. As we know, the university is not a state government department. Thus, the government should not interfere in UGC laws. This will create problems in the higher education system.

The Amendment Act 2020, which was notified in the Odisha Gazette and came into force on September 4, 2020, abolished the University of Odisha Act and removed the power to recruit faculty from public universities of the respective Senates and handed it over to the Odisha Civil Service Commission. Odisha has 11 universities, which are state-run and recognized by UGC. Some of these universities were established before independence. Utkal University was established in 1943 while Ravenshaw College which started in 1868 became a university in 2005.

This year, retired JNU professor Ajit Kumar Mohanty and the University Grants Commission appealed to the Supreme Court to challenge the High Court’s decision. The UGC argued that the state law conflicts with the UGC-2018 regulations issued under the University Grants Commission Act of 1956.

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