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March 14, 2018

Amended universities’ laws challenged in SHC


March 14, 2018

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday received a petition challenging a controversial bill that empowers the chief minister to control the administrative affairs of public universities and degree-awarding institutes across the province instead of the governor.

On March 7 opposition lawmakers had walked out of the provincial assembly en masse over the Sindh Universities & Institutes Laws (Amendment) Bill 2018 because they saw the proposed law as another government bid to encroach on the autonomy of public universities by snatching their key administrative powers.

Two days later, despite vociferous agitation and a protest walkout by the opposition, the legislature passed the bill through a majority vote. PA opposition leader Khawaja Izharul Hassan later told the media that the opposition would challenge the bill in court.

The next day Law Minister Ziaul Hassan told The News that the bill is in accordance with the 18th amendment since the Sindh government has established its own higher education commission and created the post of provincial secretary of boards and universities.

“In such a situation, instead of the chancellor [governor], the CM should be fully empowered to look after the universities,” said the minister, seeing no harm in the office of the chancellor being rendered ceremonial because “this is in accordance with the spirit of the constitution, law and democracy”.

On Tuesday, through Pasban President Altaf Shakoor, the non-governmental organisation submitted in the petition that the Sindh Assembly has passed a controversial bill that has snatched the authority of the governor, who represents the federation, and empowered the CM with it.

Shakoor told the SHC that 24 public universities have been affected across the province due to “political and bureaucratic interference” in the educational institutions, claiming that the educational system has already been declining but now the futures of students look bleaker due to the bill.

He said the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has “unlawfully” passed controversial amendments without a quorum and without fulfilling the lawful and constitutional formalities, adding that the bill has changed the functions undertaken by academic councils, such as formulating admission policies.

The petitioner told the high court that under the bill, vice-chancellors cannot take administrative decisions to run the day-to-day affairs of universities and even appointments made by VCs will be subject to the approval of the CM and bureaucratic body.

Shakoor said that all university teachers and staff have rejected the bill, adding that the intentions, aims and objectives of the legislature should always be bona fide and for the welfare and interest of the people, not to impose “unwanted and illegal” bills on the public.

He told the bench that the controversial bill has snatched the autonomy enjoyed by institutions of higher education and inducted majority of the provincial bureaucrats in the body for taking decisions at whim.

The petitioner requested that the high court restrain the provincial government and all the relevant officials from proceeding further on the controversial bill.

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