Panjab University Chandigarh is in turmoil these days. The four-year term of its highest governing body The Senate is coming to an end on 31st October 2020. The last Senate was notified by former Vice President Hamid Ansari in the capacity of Chancellor of Panjab University. It was notified by 25th October to come into existence from 1st November 2016, after making 36 Chancellor nominations. Out of 90-member Senate, six are ex office members like Chief Minister of Punjab, Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court and officials of finance and education dept of Punjab and Chandigarh. 49 members of the Senate are elected from different constituencies like Professors, Associate Professors, Assistant Professors, Principals of Colleges and Graduates of the University. The largest number of Senators are elected from the Graduate constituency numbering 15. The process of election of Senators from different constituencies is complete normally by September end. Its election schedule was announced as well, but taking the excuse of Covid19, the elections were first postponed on 15th August by the Vice Chancellor for two months and again postponed indefinitely with the excuse of non-permission from Chandigarh administration on 17th October. The UGC Secretary under directions from the Ministry of Education sent a letter on 20th October to initiate the process of Governance reform under the New Education Policy, which practically means to disband the present governing bodies like the Senate and the Syndicate and replace it by Chancellor nominated Board of Governors. University circles and local print media are agog with the news of complete demolition of democratic governance structure of the University, which include the highest governing body Senate and the executive body of 15 elected plus five ex office members of the Syndicate. The present Syndicate elected by the present Senate will also complete its term on 31st December. The present Senate and Syndicate were not in tune with present central Government and RSS, as well as its appointed Vice Chancellor, so the University teachers and other concerned Senators like Chandigarh ex MP and former Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal think that it is the end of the road for the last surviving democratic structure of the heritage University and it will meet the fate of central universities of JNU, Jamia and AMU coming directly under the control of ministry and RSS moused Vice Chancellors with oppressive and anti-academic/knowledge administration! Out of all Universities in India, it is only Panjab University Chandigarh, which has been holding it democratic governing structure fully intact, perhaps Calcutta, Madras and Bombay Universities have partial democratic governing structure;

To know the present crisis in Indian Universities, a bird’s eye view of Indian Universities is given here-

The first ever University of India-University of Calcutta was set up on 24th January 1857. In the same year on 24th July 1857-University of Bombay was set up and a few months later on 5th September 1857-University of Madras was set up.

University of the Punjab at Lahore, as the fourth University of India, was set up fifteen years later on 14th October 1882, but it was the first University which expanded its scope from just examining University to teaching and examining both. This was set up under Punjab University Act of 1882.

Precursor to Punjab University Lahore was setting up of a Government College in Lahore on 1st January 1864, as part of British scheme of expanding higher education in India.

Government College Lahore was initially set up in Dhyan Singh haveli in Lahore, later it was renamed as Lahore University College by 1869 and further as Punjab University College Lahore. There was a systematic campaign to upgrade the college to University for 13 long years before it was finally upgraded as University of the Punjab on 14th October 1882. In between Lahore Oriental college was set up in 1870, which focussed on Indian classic languages Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Hindi etc. It is interesting to know that Gurmukhi was recognised by Oriental college as early as in 1877 and Punjabi (Gurmukhi) department was opened in Oriental college in 1879 which was renamed as Punjabi Language and Culture department after the 1947 partition.

While all these Universities had their own act, after the setting of Allahabad University five year later in 1887, British Govt. created a common act for all the five Universities, which was called Indian Universities act of 1904. The concept of governance of Indian Universities-Senate, Syndicate and other bodies with elections from faculties and Graduate constituencies was initiated from this act. Later when more Universities were set up, till 1947, these were only 21 in number, this act was repealed by five Universitas and evolved their own acts. At present there are nearly a thousand universities in India, which include 400+ in public sector-Central and State Universities. The autonomy of the University was a pious concept, which expressed itself through every University’s own act, the concept which is being demolished since 2014 and especially through so called New Education policy, which insists upon a single type of governance of all universities-central and state, which is a direct assault not only to the autonomy of the universities, it is assault even on the federal structure and states’ rights as in farming sector and now in education sector.

Tumultuous Journey of the University of the Punjab | Economic and Political Weekly (epw.in)

Some facts regarding Panjab University are shared commonly in two websites and calendars from India and Pakistan as it is the only University in pre partition India, which also got partitioned by the British colonial designed inhuman partition plan. Like on the website of what is now post partition called University of the Punjab fact book of 2018 mentions-

Fact Book

A Brief History of University of the Punjab

Established—-14 October, 1882

First Chancellor—— Sir Charles Umpherston(Governor of Punjab)

First Vice Chancellor——- Sir James Broadwood Lyall

First Registrar——– Goleiv William Leitner

Current Chancellor———- Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar

Current Vice Chancellor——— Prof. Dr. Niaz Ahmad Akhtar

Nobel Laureates

Har Gobind Khorana (January 9, 1922 — November 9, 2011)

1968 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Abdus Salam (January 29, 1926 — November 21, 1996)

1979 Nobel Prize in Physics

These facts are not found on Panjab University Chandigarh website, though we claim Hargobind Khurana to be Indian Nobel Laureate. Following details also not found on our website-

The University of the Punjab was formally established with the convening of the first meeting of its Senate on October 14, 1882 at Simla.

The University of the Punjab was formally established with the convening of the first meeting of its Senate on October 14, 1882 at Simla. It was the fourth University to be established by the British colonial authorities on the Indian Subcontinent. The first three universities were established by the British rulers at their initial strongholds of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. The University of the Punjab came into existence as a result of a long-drawn struggle of the people of Punjab after the war of independence in 1857. Contrary to the three previously established universities, which were only examining institutions, the University of the Punjab was both teaching as well as examining body right from the beginning.

The contribution of Dr. G. W. Leitner, an enlightened Hungarian and a naturalized Britisher, was instrumental in the establishment of this University. He became its first Registrar. Prof. A. C. Woolner, who remained Vice-Chancellor of this University during 1928-1936, played a key role in its development during the initial decades of this century. His statue still stands in front of the Allama Iqbal Campus of the University.

First Indian to become Vice Chancellor of Panjab University Lahore was Prof. P C Chatterjee in 1907, whose photograph figures as prominently as of other VCs on PU Lahore website.

First Fellows/Senators of the University included Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Kashmir, Maharaja Rajinder Singh of Patiala, Raja Hira Singh of Nabha, Raja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthla, Raja Raghbir Singh of Jind, Nawab Mohd. Siddique Khan of Bahawalpur, Nawab Ibrahim Khan of Malerkotla, Raja Bikram Singh of Faridkot, Munshi Hukam Chand and Sodhi Hukam Singh among others.

After partition, Punjab University also went through a traumatic time, particularly in Indian part of Punjab-East Punjab. It was agreed at the time of partition that examinations will be conducted by the University of the Punjab Lahore on both sides. For this purpose Registrar (Examination) of the University Madan Gopal Singh, who was in India at the time of partition, travelled to Lahore from Shimla, leaving a note for eminent artist Krishan Khanna’s father-‘See you when I get back, that is, if I get back’! He was murdered by his own personal assistant in his own office in University! Professor Brij Narayan, head of Economics department and well-known progressive economist, who wrote on ‘Sufferings of Peasants’, and had opted to stay back in Lahore was similarly murdered in his office. So, the long shadow of hatred destroyed University of Lahore humanist tradition and the nascent government in East Punjab was compelled to bring an ordinance to set up East Punjab University on 27th September 1947, which came into existence from 1st October 1947. Sir Chandu Lal Trivedi, Governor of East Punjab became its first Chancellor. The administrative offices of the University were in a Camp in Shimla, Justice Teja Singh was appointed Honorary Vice Chancellor of the University from 8th February 1948, which he continued till 31st March 1949.

Jawahar Lal Nehru with then Panjab University Chandigarh Vice Chancellor A C Joshi on 23rdOctober 1963, at the inauguration of University library now named as AC Joshi Library.

Now Panjab University in Chandigarh is governed by Panjab University Act 1947, amended up to 1984, whereas University of Punjab in Lahore is governed by first by Punjab University act of 1954, then 55 after many amendments and repealing of earlier acts, presently it is governed by The University of the Punjab Act 1973 as amended till 2014.

Interesting part of both the acts of Punjab University in Lahore and Chandigarh are that they have kept the original structure of governance with some changes as per their country’s local needs. Most importantly both the Universities still continue with the elected Senate as highest governing body. It is written on Panjab University website Senate page-

The Senate shall have the entire management of, and superintendence over the affairs, concerns and property of the University and shall provide for that management, and exercise that superintendence in accordance with the statutes, rules and regulations for the time being in force.

While the Senate and Syndicate of The University of Punjab Lahore was so democratized during the period of Bhutto that seats were reserved for two each representative of elected student’s union and teachers’ associations in both Senate and Syndicate which were withdrawn during Zia ul Haqq’s black days of Pakistan. But still out of five seats for the graduate constituency, two are reserved for women, also few more seats are reserved for women, whereas no such reservation was ever introduced in Panjab University Chandigarh. While President of elected teachers and employees’ associations are normally nominated to the Senate, but despite Senate’s unanimous resolutions, President of the elected student’s union is still not nominated to the Senate by the Chancellor in his 36 nominations. The term of Lahore Senate is three years, whereas Chandigarh Senate has four-year term. Syndicate of Lahore University is less democratic than the Chandigarh Senate. But now the whole structure of the Senate and the Syndicate is being planned to be demolished with the Chancellor keeping silent or perhaps supporting the government.

Panjab University Chandigarh structure has more complexities. After partition 1947 act provided for the Governor of Punjab to be its Chancellor as in Lahore, but after creation of Haryana in 1966, when the colleges of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh- three states for few years were affiliated to Panjab University , Central Government by changing the act in Parliament made it a inter-state University, the only University in the country which is inter-state. Governor of Punjab was replaced with Vice President of India as Chancellor. After all the affiliating states like Haryana and Himachal Pradesh had their own affiliating Universities set up, now only Punjab colleges are affiliated to Panjab University Chandigarh. As the nature of Panjab University reverted back to Punjab only, it was natural to revert it back to the state of Punjab, which claims it. But as the issue of Chandigarh is long stagnating and Punjab not getting the city as its legitimate claim, University was to be transferred back to Punjab as part of Chandigarh. Since Chandigarh is kept as Union Territory and its colleges are affiliated to Panjab University Chandigarh, its inter-state status is not being reverted to state University. University finances are shared at 60/40 percent by the Centre and state of Punjab. So, the state of Punjab is having heavy stakes in the shape of the University and any change in its governing structure can not be done without taking Punjab state on board. Many times, this University has been tried to be converted into Central University, it has created a political storm in Punjab and now if its governing structure is changed arbitrarily by the Central government, it will turn into a political issue as well. Already Punjab state people are up in arms against anti farmer laws, the arbitrary change in Panjab University governing status is likely to contribute to another resentment among Punjab people as encroaching upon state rights. But the concern among Panjab University well wishers is that the present Central government has no concern for people’s feelings and they do whatever they wish to without even bothering about the niceties of procedural propriety. The subdued judiciary makes the Central government more arrogant. Doing away even with parliamentary procedure without any resistance on the roads makes them bolder.

Everyone in Panjab University and Punjab is wondering what would be the fate of Panjab University in Chandigarh as the rulers have no qualms in crushing its democratic governing structure. The elected teacher’s association, student’s union and employees’ associations are all opposed to the nefarious design of the central education ministry, but who cares? Central Govt. is determined to destroy this great University as they had earlier destroyed or trying to destroy JNU, Jamia and AMU!

Punjab University both at Lahore and Chandigarh has produced excellent personalities in the all fields, from politics to various disciplines of academics-Dr. Manmohan Singh, Inder Kumar Gujral, writers Mulk Raj Anand, Balraj Sahni and Bhishm Sahni, Romila Thapar, Noble Laureate Scientist Hargobind Khurana, Satish Dhawan and innumerable more. The University also produced the first ever student union woman President Kanupriya, which was celebrated by Lahore students as well. Democratic governing structures are conducive for research and creative development of the human mind, for knowledge generation, producing good and healthy citizens, devoid of hatred! But present rulers of India don’t want such citizens and need only dumb and bhagat citizens to follow the rulers! Whether Punjab people charged with Bhagat Singh’s rational thought, being expressed in ongoing massive peasant resistance, would allow this to happen? Only time will tell!

Chaman Lal, a retired Professor from JNU, New Delhi, is Chancellor nominated Fellow and elected Dean, Faculty of Languages at Panjab University Chandigarh.


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