The Supreme Court on Monday sought reply from the federal government and its various authorities on a petition challenging the devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
The apex court issued notices to ministries of law, education, inter-provincial coordination division/implementation commission, and the HEC, to appear before the court on Tuesday on various petitions filed by Dr Attaur Rehman, former chief of the HEC and two teachers and others. The apex court clubbed all the petitions into one. The petitioners contended that the HEC is an autonomous entity and has nothing to do with the Concurrent List, which needs to be done away with as a consequence of the approval of 18th Amendment.
The lawyer of the petitioners, Anwar Mansoor Khan, former Attorney General of Pakistan, pleaded the case before a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. He said that the federal government was misinterpreting the Constitution with regard to the devolution of HEC as it does not fall under the purview of education ministry after implementing the 18th Amendment. The petitioners prayed to the court to stay the decision till the final decision on the petition.
However, in his brief remarks, Chief Justice Chaudhry termed it a “burning issue” and adjourned its hearing till Tuesday.
The petitioners contended that devolution of HEC and its functions to the provinces, is illegal and unconstitutional as the subject of higher education is not in the Concurrent List.
The court was informed by the counsel for the petitioners that HEC is an autonomous organisation, formed in 2002 under the Higher Education Commission Ordinance, renaming the University Grants Commission. The aim and objectives of the commission, the petition contends, is improvement and promotion of higher education, research and development and to facilitate institutions of higher learning to serve as an engine of socio-economic development in the country. The counsel also maintained that the HEC is not attached to the Ministry of Education and it functions under the Prime Minister.
It was mentioned in the petition that current powers and functions of the HEC include higher education and research which are federal subjects controlled by a law.
Khan said that the HEC was and continues to be controlled by the Council of Common Interest, where the government of Pakistan has no authority to interfere in and modify or change the functions and authority of the CCI.
The petition added that the “HEC is a role-model federal organisation constituted by law and which empowers equal and full participation of all provinces and universities in higher education policy making for national development”. They also cited the examples of most of the countries around the world, where higher education is a federal subject.
The petitioners pleaded that “for national integration and prosperity, it is essential that HEC must continue to perform its functions which it has successfully done so far, for the last eight years.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.
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