Given India’s anti-defection laws, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 should have sailed through smoothly in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on August 26 in spite of opposition from many MPs who raised a number of pertinent issues. However, in a surprising turn of events the Bill faced opposition from Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao (along with other Opposition members). It forced the Minister of Human Resource Development Shri Kapil Sibal to defer the consideration and passing of the Bill to the Winter session of Parliament. Such an incidence raises the larger issue of whether an MP should follow the party line or be allowed to express his opinion which may be contrary to the party. Last year, Vice President Hamid Ansari had expressed the view that there was a need to expand the scope for individual MPs to express their opinion on policy matters. One of the ways this could be done, he felt, was by limiting the issuance of whips “to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as Money Bills or No-Confidence Motions.” There are others who feel that MPs should not oppose the party line in the House since they represent the party in the Parliament. (See PRS note on The Anti-Defection Law: Intent and Impact). The Educational Tribunals Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010, seeks to set up tribunals at the state and national level to adjudicate disputes related to higher education. The disputes may be related to service matters of teachers; unfair practices of the higher educational institutions; affiliation of colleges; and statutory regulatory authorities. The tribunals shall include judicial, academic and administrative members. The Bill bars the jurisdiction of civil courts over any matters that the tribunals are empowered to hear. It also seeks to penalise any person who does not comply with the orders of the tribunals. (See the analysis of PRS on the Educational Tribunals Bill). The Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, which submitted its report on August 20, 2010. Although the report expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of inputs from states and universities and made a number of recommendations on various provisions, the HRD Ministry rejected those suggestions. Some of the key issues raised by the Standing Committee are as follows:
- The Committee observed that no specific assessment about quantum of litigation has been carried out. It recommended that before setting up tribunals, the magnitude of cases and costs incurred in litigation should be assessed. A minimum court fee should be fixed to ensure viability of the tribunals.
- The Committee pointed out that the status of existing tribunals is unclear. Also, since the number of educational institutions vary from state to state, the Committee felt that one educational tribunal per state cannot be made uniformly applicable.
- The Committee stated that there is no clear rationale for fixing a minimum age limit of 55 years for members of the tribunals. It recommended that competent people with adequate knowledge and experience, irrespective of age, should be considered.
- In case there is a vacancy in the chairperson’s post, other two members shall hear cases in the state educational tribunals. However, this leaves the possibility of cases being heard without a judicial member (since chairperson is the only judicial member). The Committee pointed out that a recent Supreme Court judgment states that every two-member bench of the tribunal should always have a judicial member. Also, whenever any larger or special benches are constituted, the number of technical members should not exceed the judicial member. The Committee were of the view that certain provisions of the Bill violate the Supreme Court judgment and should be re-thought.
- The Committee recommends that the term “unfair practice” should be defined in the Bill so that it is not open to interpretation by the courts.
- The Selection Committee to recommend panel for national tribunal includes the Chief Justice of India and Secretaries, Higher Education, Law and Justice, Medical Education and Personnel and Training as members. The Committee recommended that there should be adequate representation of the academia in the Selection Committee.
- The Committee proposed that the government needs to identify the lacunae of the existing tribunal systems and ensure that orders of the tribunals have some force.