Both houses of the state legislature on Thursday cleared the much-awaited Maharashtra Public Universities Bill, 2016, which promises to usher in one of the biggest reforms in the education sector in more than two decades.

Once the bill is enacted and replaces the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994, it shall pave the way for universities to conduct elections to various academic bodies held up for the past year and half. Student council elections, banned about 22 years ago, shall make a comeback with the new legislation, as was recommended by the Lyngdoh Committee.

The amended bill was tabled by education minister Vinod Tawde when a majority of members from both the treasury and the opposition benches were absent.

Before it was put before the assembly and the council, the draft bill had been cleared by a joint panel of 21 legislators from both houses with as many as 56 amendments. The panel also had two former education ministers, college trustees and experts from various fields as its members.

The bill allows students to select their subjects with the choice-based credit system (CBCS).

“If an arts faculty stu dent wants to study biochemistry , he can,“ Tawde said.“Students should be offered choices. The fixed box system of arts, commerce and science faculty would cease to exist, but it will take about four to five years to bring these major changes.“

The bill makes it mandatory for all universities and colleges to set up a `Vishakha cell' to check sexual harassment. An advisory panel comprising top experts from the education, industry , social work and other fields will be constituted. All universities shall be required to release the timetable for all courses at the beginning of academic session. Tawde said students pursuing sports are forced to skip examinations if they are busy with sports. “Now the university will have to conduct a separate examination for them later on, which will save their academic year,“ he said.

Later, Tawde said the new law would help break lobbies of professors in the board of studies elections, which did not allow the vice-chancellor to perform to his optimum.“Now we will have an academic team of six, made up of the vice-chancellor, pro-vice chancellor and four deans of various colleges, who will have much more academic autonomy ,“ Tawde said.