Amid the protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) over the hostel fee hike, the Ministry of Human Resource Development on Wednesday tweeted that the draft hostel manual had been partially rolled back.
#JNU Executive Committee announces major roll-back in the hostel fee and other stipulations. Also proposes a scheme for economic assistance to the EWS students. Time to get back to classes. @HRDMinistry
— R. Subrahmanyam (@subrahyd) November 13, 2019
The decision was taken by the Executive Council of the university, which is the highest decision-making body.
However, three professors who are elected members of the Council alleged that they were prevented from attending a meeting by the administration through a “deliberate last-minute change of venue.”
Professor Sharad Baviskar, an elected member of the Executive Council, also claimed that the rollback announcement being reported in the media was an eyewash.
“There is no rollback. A substantial portion of the hike is still there. But what is a bigger cause of concern is that we were deliberately prevented from attending the Council meeting,” Baviskar said.
The professors alleged that the 283rd Executive Council meeting was scheduled to take place at 10 am in the Convention Centre in the JNU campus on Wednesday.
However, when professors Sachidananda Sinha, Sharad Baviskar and Moushumi Basu, along with five deans who are also members of the council, reached the venue in the morning, there was no sign of a meeting.
“We called the registrar’s office but there was no response,” Sinha said.
At around 12.40 pm, they purportedly received an email informing them about a change in the venue to the Association of Indian Universities near ITO in New Delhi, nearly 20 kms away.
The meeting time too had been rescheduled for 12.30 pm.
“I did not even see the email as I don’t usually check it when I’m out for meetings, etc. How on earth do you expect someone to reach a place at 12.30 pm, when the email is sent out at 12.40 pm? It’s absurd,” Sinha said.
The elected members decided against going as they could not have reached the venue on time.
“This is not how a premier university of the country is supposed to function,” Sinha said.
The draft hostel manual was not part of the agenda in the original meeting of the Executive Council, he added.
“It was tabled keeping in mind the student agitation, I suppose. However, the absence of three elected members and five deans makes the whole procedure improper,” Sinha said.
“Usually, at such a meeting, a lot of deliberations take place. The elected members collect all the information from the teachers concerned and present it before the Executive Council. The proposals are debated. And only then can a proper decision be made. But the way this meeting has been held brings disrepute to the institution,” he said.
“I can understand if a member could not attend the meeting due to an emergency. But in this case, the most dignified council of the university, represented by professors, deans, and other stakeholders, was intentionally kept away from meetings. It is an illegal act on the part of the administration,” Sinha added.
On the decision taken about the supposed rollback of the draft hostel manual in the Executive Council meeting, Secretary of the JNUTA, Surajit Mazumdar said that the three elected members would have presented their dissenting points to the Council.
“It has become a trend now for the administration to take unilateral decisions without consulting the stakeholders who will actually be affected by those decisions,” Mazumdar said.
Sinha also said that the manner in which the draft hostel manual was prepared and revised was illegal.
“The Inter House Administration, a body that functions under the Dean of Students, is responsible for making recommendations for changes in the hostel,” he said.
The JNUSU and other student councils are part of it and they are supposed to meet and decide on the rules and regulations.
This year, however, the JNU administration refused to recognise the JNUSU body. “A large number of students were not in a position to attend the meetings. The dean was taken unwell. Some meetings did take place, but hasty decisions were taken, leading to a lot of ‘illegalities’,” Sinha added.
“The protocol normally followed by the IHA was not conducted this year. Views and concerns of student stakeholders were not incorporated. And that is precisely why this agitation is going on,” he stressed.
Baviskar added that the announcement of a rollback that came via Twitter was only meant to take the steam out of the students’ protests.
Others said that the reports of a rollback were misleading and aimed at creating “a false narrative”.
This is the third week of the protests in JNU against the draft hostel manual.
The draft had proposed a steep hike for the hostel charges for the students.
NDTV reported that the revised hike had brought down the room charges from the proposed Rs 600 to Rs 200 per month. But it is still several times the existing charges of Rs 20. Further, the contentious utility component of Rs 1,700 per month has been retained.
The JNUSU has vowed to continue the agitation till they are made part of the deliberations.
Mazumdar spelt out the main reasons why the increase in hostel fees was unacceptable for the students as well as the teachers.
“JNU is primarily a research university, where two-thirds of the students are research scholars, and they are at an age where most other people are working and earning,” he pointed out.
“Nowhere in the world do you run research programmes by collecting fees from the students. Instead, students should be compensated for the opportunities they are foregoing, had they been employed,” he added.
“JNU has a long history of admitting students from underprivileged backgrounds, and training them to contribute to society meaningfully,” Mazumdar said.
“With any hike, that possibility and purpose of a public university will be lost,” he cautioned.
Calls, messages, and emails to the Registrar of JNU Pramod Kumar went unanswered at the time of filing this report.