The Supreme Court on Friday issued a stay on the Odisha Universities (Amendment) Act, 2020 through which the state government had sought to control appointment to important academic and administrative posts in state universities, including the 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 professor of JNU Ajit Kumar Mohanty. The court sought a reply from the Odisha government and set 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 that had challenged it. The high court bench headed by chief justice S Muralidhar observed that the changes made in the procedure of recruitment of vice-chancellors and teachers for various universities were not unconstitutional.
The Odisha government may change some amendments and will file a fresh affidavit before the SC within four weeks.
Soon after the stay, a war of politics erupted in the state over the Supreme Court ruling. Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said the law was opposed in the Assembly. Senior BJP leader Bishnu Charan Sethi said the government had hurriedly passed the bill in the Assembly.
Ruling party Rajya Sabha MP Amar Patnaik said the bill was discussed in the presence of all parties in the Assembly. The Supreme Court has adjourned for three months and the state government is interpreting the Supreme Court’s verdict. “We have to wait for the final decision of the Supreme Court,” said Amar Patnaik.
Retired vice-chancellor of the Utkal University Professor Binayak Rath said: “The revised university law violates UGC rules. The New Amendment minimizes the autonomy and freedom of universities in the state. As we know, the university is not a state government department. So, the government should not intervene in 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, did away with the Odisha University Act and took away the power of recruitment of teaching staff of state-run universities from the respective Senates and gave it to the Odisha Public Service Commission. Odisha has 11 universities, managed by the state and recognized by the UGC. Some of these universities were established prior to Independence. Utkal University was established in 1943 while Ravenshaw College, which began in 1868, became a University in 2005.
This year, retired JNU professor Ajit Kumar Mohanty and University Grants Commission moved to the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the high court. The UGC contended that the state law is in conflict with the UGC Regulation-2018 issued under University Grant Commission Act, 1956.