LAHORE - The Lahore High Court last week held that the power to appoint the vice chancellors of four universities rests with the Punjab government, not the Higher Education Commission.

The court announced its verdict on an intra court appeal filed by Punjab government challenging single bench decision in favour of the HEC. It directed the Punjab government to proceed with appointment of vice-chancellors in four public sector universities.

The bench held that the Higher Education Commission (HEC), in future, will work under supervision and control of Council of Common Interest.

The court ruled that Federation can set standards in institutions of higher education; however, they will always pass as minimum national standards, as they cater to all the public sector universities in the country and maintain national unity and federal compact.

Simultaneously, the province is fully empowered to develop those standards which can be higher and more stringent as compared to the federal standards, but they cannot be below the federal standards.

The bench further held that provincial legislature has the powers to set standards i.e. procedures and criteria for selection of the VCs, as long as, they are not below the minimum and baseline standards set by the Federation.

The court also directed Council of Common Interests (CCI) to review all the standards in institutions of higher education framed by HEC in order to make them constitutionally compliant in the next six months.

The bench held: “We direct the HEC and the federal government that in future the HEC will work under the supervision and control of CCI and any policies or regulations prepared by the HEC shall be routed through the CCI and will only be considered to be legally binding, if approved by CCI.”

The four public universities about which the court allowed the Punjab government to appoint VCs include Lahore College for Women University Lahore, University of Sargodha, University of the Punjab Lahore, and Muhammad Nawaz Sharif University of Engineering & Technology Multan. The court ordered that these appointments be made strictly on the basis of the recommendations of the Search Committee by considering a panel of three persons in the case of each university, however, all future appointments in the public sector universities in Punjab will be made in accordance with law settled in this judgment.

The provisional appointments of VCs of the four above mentioned universities by this court shall come to an end when appointment of the regular VCs is made in compliance of this judgment, the bench said.

The judgment made it clear that order of the single bench was effective only to the four universities and cannot upset or affect the appointments made in the other seven universities, which are valid and intact.

The Punjab government had filed this ICA against order of Justice Shahid Karim passed on December 01, 2016. Justice Karim had ordered the removal of acting VCs of these four universities and instructed the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to fill the posts purely in accordance with the law.

Justice Shahid Karim had, on the petition of Advocate Saad Rasool, ordered removal of acting VCs, including Dr Mujahid Karman of Punjab University, Dr Uzma Qureshi of Lahore College for Women University, Dr Nazir Sultana of Sargodha University, and Dr Fazal Ahmed of Nawaz Sharif Engineering University, Multan. The court also declared the process of appointing the VCs by the Higher Education Department as illegal. It directed the HEC to devise a criteria separately for every university and make separate search committees for all universities to fill the seats.

In addition to this, the LHC took many important cases including Sharif family sugar mills, petition against tax amnesty given to traders, alleged fight of lawyers with a judge of lower court and the bail matter of Muhammad Hanif who is accused of making a 9th class student blind with sharp-edge.

The LHC issued contempt notices to chief executive officers of three sugar mills, said to be owned by Sharif family and their close relatives, for carrying out crushing of sugar canes and their buying from the local farmers in violation of court orders in which these mills were sealed. The court passed the order on a contempt petition filed by PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen seeking contempt proceedings against Chaudhary Sugar Mills, Haseeb Sugar Mills and Ittefaq Sugar Mills. The hearing of the matter is being held on daily basis.

While hearing a petition against Tax amnesty scheme, the LHC directed the federal government to tell it whether cabinet’s approval had been accorded before tax amnesty scheme was passed by the Parliament in 2016 specifically for the trader class. The court gave three weeks time to the government’s lawyer to come up with reply.

During the week, LHC Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah constituted a new full bench to hold proceedings against three lawyers Barrister Ehtesham Ameeruddin, Mehar Ahsan and Inam for allegedly manhandling an additional district and sessions judge. The bench comprising Justice Atir Mehmood, Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan and Justice Shahram Sarwar Chaudhary will start proceedings from April 27.

Earlier, full bench member Justice Syed Kazam Raza Shamsi declined to hear the matter. The lawyers are facing the charges of damaging the decorum of a court, getting infuriated with a judge, chasing him to his retiring room and manhandling with him during hearing of a matter at the sessions court.

The Islampura Police had lodged a case against these lawyers under terrorism and other criminal charges for misbehaving with a judge in open court and ransacking his chamber allegedly for not getting a ‘favourable’ decision in a case.

The case was registered a case on the complaint of the victim, Irfan Anjum.

The LHC last week also expressed dismay over delay in completion of Environment Protection Agency’s central laboratory. In July 2016, the court had directed the Punjab chief secretary to make the laboratory functional and submit a compliance report within three months but the petitioner’s counsel told the court that the laboratory yet was not established.

The law officers of the federal and provincial governments filed their reports, which were silent about the functioning of the EPA central lab. The petitioner’s counsel said the government and EPA had been blatantly violating direction of the court to present report regarding completion of the central laboratory.

The hearing of the case is due on May 5.

During the week, the LHC also stayed process for the appointment of chief executive officer of the Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) and sought replies from federal and provincial governments. In another case, the court rejected bail of Muhammad Hanif who is accused of making Aish Muhammad, student of 9th class, as blind. Police also submitted challan before the anti-terrorism court (ATC) and said that he made him blind for ‘honour’ as the victim allegedly had a relationship with a woman of the accused’s family.