Dr Tariq Banuri. — Online file photo
Dr Tariq Banuri. — Online file photo

ISLAMABAD: A division bench of Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday restored Dr Tariq Javed Banuri on the post of chairman Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Dr Banuri was appointed as the HEC chairman in 2018 on a four-year term. According to a notification issued by the federal government, he was supposed to retire in May this year.

However, Dr Banuri was removed from the post in March 2021 on the basis of an amendment to the HEC ordinance 2002 through a presidential ordinance that reduced the chairman’s tenure from four years to two years.

The division bench of the IHC comprised Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Aamer Farooq.

Federal govt removed HEC head after reducing tenure through presidential ordinance in March 2021

“For reason to be recorded later the petition in hand is allowed. Consequently, the impugned notifications, dated 26-03-2021 and 05-4-2021, are declared to have been issued without lawful authority and contrary to amended provisions of the Higher Education Commission Ordinance, 2002. Respondent No. 6, Dr. Tariq Javed Banuri, therefore, stands restored as the Chairman of Higher Education Commission,” read the judgement of the IHC on a petition filed in the IHC by Mosharraf Ali Zaidi and others.

After his restoration, a cold war is expected between Dr Banuri and the federal government and its appointed member HEC Dr Attaur Rahman, who is also a former chairman of the commission and is currently heading Prime Minister’s Task Force on Science and Technology.

Last year, Dr Banuri had leveled serious allegations against Dr Rahman and the federal government, which warranted proper investigations. After his removal, several policies initiated by him were reversed by the HEC.

Following his restoration, Dawn spoke to several officers of the HEC and the federal education ministry who said mishandling of the matter by the federal government could lead to a new crisis in the HEC.

Interestingly, there were reports that Dr Atta will replace Dr Banuri. However, when Dr Banuri challenged his removal in Sindh High Court, the court though did not restore him but barred the government from appointing a new chairman.

Meanwhile, the government besides appointing three other members appointed Dr Atta as a member of the commission.

After his removal, Dr Banuri in an interview on a Youtube channel had alleged that apparently for starting accountability of three HEC-funded research centres supervised by Dr Rahman, he had been removed.

He had also alleged that these centres got around Rs1 billion funding annually but their outcome was not satisfactory, adding when he asked for accountability of these centres he was directed by the federal government not to do so.

He had also alleged that his objections to the “so-called knowledge economy” project under Dr Atta, which required a funding of Rs30 billion, also did not suit the government.

He also alleged that he was being pressured for launching public-private partnership in universities.

However, Dr Atta last year rejected the allegations.

Officials of the HEC and the ministry said that keeping in view the allegations leveled by Dr Banuri, it was expected that the government would challenge the decision of the IHC.

It is yet to be decided if Dr Banuri’s tenure will end in May this year as per the notification of 2018 or he will be given an extended term by the court in its detailed judgement as he was restored after 10 months.

If the government does not challenge the judgement, the legitimacy of three new members of the commission, who were appointed on the basis of the new amendments to the ordinance, could also be questioned.

The officials said two main policies of Dr Banuri - on PhD and undergraduate programmes - were deferred by the commission and its implementation was stopped, while in his absence a selection board was held to promote numbers of the HEC officers.

On the other hand, the federal government for the last many years has failed to appoint the executive director (ED0 of HEC. The ED is the principal accounting officer of the regulatory body which has over Rs100 billion annual budget.

The post of the ED fell vacant in October 2018 after Dr Arshad Ali resigned. After his resignation, the HEC advertised the post thrice but as per officials in the commission’s regulatory body it could not find a ‘suitable’ candidate. Finally, in October 2020, the HEC hired the services of senior bureaucrat Dr Shaista Sohail on deputation basis.

She retired in August this year after reaching the age of superannuation but was given an extension to run the affairs of the HEC.

Similarly, three other important positions of members operations, academics and IT have been lying vacant for the last over one year.

When contacted, a senior officer of education ministry said that after receiving the certified copy of the IHC judgement, the ministry and the federal government will decide the next course of action.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2022

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