In October 8, 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir Administrative Council (JKAC) headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha gave its nod to the Jammu and Kashmir Public University Bill, 2022 that will apply to all public universities in the Union Territory of J&K.
According to preliminary details available in public domain, the Bill lays emphasis on “uniformity and flexibility in working of all higher educational institutions” and in the same Bill, a number of “new provisions have also been introduced to make the functioning of universities transparent and accountable”.
For recruitment of non-gazetted positions, the Bill proposes to do away with interviews altogether and conduct recruitment through the Service Selection Board of the Jammu and Kashmir government, and in order to make the recruitment process fully transparent and merit-based, screening by the Public Service Commission and reduction in weightage to interview has been proposed for gazetted positions.
The salient features of the current draft include emphasis on uniformity and flexibility in working of all the higher educational institutions while the Bill has a number of new provisions which aim to make the functioning of universities transparent and accountable through transparent procedures and public disclosures.
The Bill, on the face of it, is a landmark initiative taken by the LG Administration in Jammu and Kashmir to bring greater accountability and transparency in the functioning of public universities across the Union Territory.
Moreover, in light of the new National Education Policy-2020, the Bill envisages fundamental transformation in the structure of higher education by mandating the transformation of all affiliated colleges to either multidisciplinary research or teaching universities or degree-awarding autonomous institutions by 2035.
There is little to disagree with the fact that public universities in Jammu and Kashmir have faced a lot of criticism over the years over lack of transparency and accountability especially in the process of recruitment to gazetted and non-gazetted positions. Many times several such recruitment process ended up in litigations over alleged violation of norms and favouritism in the final selections. In order to address this big issue, the new Public University Bill approved by the Administrative Council is a big leap towards ensuring transparency and making the recruitment in Universities a totally-accountable process.
Furthermore, this kind of a new legislative framework was long overdue in Jammu and Kashmir where a number of public universities have come up over the years. These universities are governed by different Acts and Statutes most of which are outdated and vague which provided a lot of flexibility to universities to resort to arbitrary decision-making. Furthermore, there was no uniformity in functioning of these universities and this uniformity is a fundamental issue being addressed by the new Public University Bill-2022.
Universities are rightly public institutions which have to be fully accountable to the public as well as to the lawmaking institutions. They cannot function arbitrarily and take refuge under the pretext of so-called “autonomy” which the heads of these institutions are found to be misusing more often, especially in the process of recruitments.
Lack of transparency in recruitment processes in universities had caused disillusionment among the youth who have long been demanding fair and transparent recruitment process.
Moreover, different universities had different norms. As mentioned above, there was no uniformity. The issues like term of Vice Chancellors, role of Vice Chancellors and role of other academic administrators in universities will now be clearly spelt out in the new Bill so that there is uniformity in all these issues across universities.
There is no denying the fact that universities need greater autonomy and liberal funding to function properly. But this autonomy must not be at the expense of merit of students who burn midnight oil to qualify the recruitment process.
If institutional heads will operate in a self-styled manner under the garb of this so-called autonomy, it will only mar the merit of candidates. This Bill was therefore the need of the hour to clip the wings and powers of institutional heads and bring them under one common umbrella where they shall be accountable like other public servants.
This Bill puts a larger emphasis on accountability and transparency. No doubt it cuts down powers of VCs and other administrators of the universities but at the same time it brings all these administrators under the ambit of accountability of the government which they were evading earlier.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has the distinction of being the first UT across the country to implement the new National Education Policy. In this context, the universities cannot afford to work in isolation. Today it is the era of multidisciplinary education and the NEP is a broad document that facilitates the journey to realise this goal. Therefore universities would need common frameworks in the arena of teaching and research which the new Bill in Jammu and Kashmir aims to provide.
Several academicians from universities who spoke to Greater Kashmir emphasized that the new Bill is a landmark initiative which will lead to accountability and transparency in the functioning of universities. This Bill is expected to take into consideration the newly-framed recruitment rules for teaching and non-teaching positions by the University Grants Commission so that the same are amalgamated into the Bill. The new legislation has to be a blend of UGC rules and regulations governing recruitments and the new initiative of having the recruitments done by PSC and SSB. The chairpersons of these selection committees should be chairpersons of PSC and SSB as against Vice Chancellors so that there is no interference of institutional heads in the process of recruitments. Most of the time institutional heads have their own biases and prejudices which spoil the career and job prospects of meritorious candidates.
All the universities should without any further delay incorporate their Statutes into the new Bill so that these institutions work under a proper legal framework. NEP-2020 also calls for changes in Statutes which should be done at the earliest.
To conclude, the new legislation called ‘Jammu and Kashmir Public University Bill-2020’ is a landmark initiative of the LG administration which was long overdue in view of the changes which have over the years taken place in the functioning of universities.
Arbitrariness in the functioning of universities has led to conflicts among faculty and administrators which will now be done away with in the new legislation.
The LG administration deserves special praise for making this happen. It is now hoped that the Bill will be converted into legislation at the earliest so that all the recruitment processes which have been initiated by the Universities across Jammu and Kashmir are done as per the provisions of the Public University Bill-2020 by the Public Service Commission and Service Selection Boards.
All pending recruitment processes should be directed to be conducted afresh by the Public Service Commission in case of gazetted positions and by the SSB in case of non-gazetted positions so that there is no room for any wrongdoing and killing of merit.
The LG administration recently quashed several recruitment processes after serious nature complaints. The new Bill seems to be another step in the way of making universities’ recruitment processes fully transparent. It is a big encouraging sign for the youth of Jammu and Kashmir whose career is being safeguarded fully. Hats Off to the LG Administration!