No consensus on renaming University of Madras

Law Department insists on changing the name; A-G says not necessary and cites the law passed in 1923

The State government has received contradictory legal opinion on renaming the University of Madras as University of Chennai. The move to rename the university was initiated after the Law Department advised the government on this citing the City of Madras (Alteration of Name) Act, 1996 passed by the Legislative Assembly by which name of the city was changed from Madras to Chennai.

The government had sought legal opinion on the issue and received contradictory views. The Syndicate of the university on September 6, 2002, rejected a suggestion to rename the varsity as University of Chennai. However, the Law Department said the university had to be renamed as stipulated under the 1996 Act. Following this, the university requested the State government to take steps to retain the original name.

Acting upon this request, the Higher Education department sent the file again to the Law Department for its remarks and the latter, in turn, reiterated its stand that the name University of Madras would have to be changed with effect from September 30, 1996 when the name of the city was altered.

To support its view, the Law Department cited Section 3 of the 1996 Act which read: “On and from the date appointed under sub-section (2) of section 1, for the alteration word ‘Madras,’ occurring in any law in force in this State, the word ‘Chennai’ shall be substituted.”

A-G’s view

However, when the government sought the opinion of Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram on the issue, he said the objective of the 1996 law was only to change the name of the city and not any institution. Therefore, retaining the name University of Madras would not amount to violation of any law.

The Higher Education department wrote to the A-G on May 25 and he sent his response on June 8. In his opinion, the A-G said, the 1996 law was similar to the Madras State (Alteration of Name) Act of 1968 passed by Parliament to rename the State of Madras as Tamil Nadu.

Mr. Shunmugasundaram said the varsity was governed by the Madras University Act passed in 1923. That law, in short, was known as Madras Act 7 of 1923. After the 1968 Central legislation, it was renamed as Tamil Nadu Act 7 of 1923 but the name of the university was not altered.

“The intention of the legislature while passing the Act 28 of 1996 was only to alter the name of city of Madras as city of Chennai. Therefore, it is not required to change the name of University of Madras. It will not be contrary to the law to retain the word Madras in the name of University of Madras,” the A-G said.

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