Thursday, 02 February 2023

Build New Hostels!!
The JNUSU had called for a protest demonstration at the Dean of Students Office a few days back to press for various demands. Assurances were given then that new hostel lists would be coming out soon. At that time, out of a total of 2027 students belonging to the Priority-I (P-I) category who had applied for hostels, 617 students were yet to get a hostel. A new list did come out subsequently, according to which 136 boys have been allotted hostels. Thus, as it stands now, 481 students have not got hostels. Out of these, 389 are boys and 92 are girls. In other words, the hostel crisis is very far from over. While demanding that more students be allowed to stay as SR/TR and that the facilities in dormitories be improved are important, these are by no means sufficient. Facilities like SR/TR and dormitories are makeshift arrangements; they are not substitutes for hostel rooms, and cannot be deemed as facilities meant for students to stay permanently. Getting a hostel room is a right, not a privilege. In this context, the administration needs to come clear on some basic questions. What is the estimate of the number of rooms that can be made available to students in this semester? Is that number sufficient to accommodate at least all the outstation students? If, as all indications suggest, the answer to this last question is “No”, what alternative plans have been formulated to solve the accommodation crisis and to provide decent living facilities for students? 

Of course, the Union and most student organisations have already demanded that more hostels be built, but we have to wage an uncompromising struggle to fulfil the demand. The administration has to be forced to commit to begin and complete the construction of new hostels in a time-bound manner. The JNUSU cannot casually remain satisfied with the promises of the administration – struggles which result in concrete written agreements need to be fought in this regard. Since it will take some time for new hostels to be built, alternatives must also be explored to address the accommodation crisis in the immediate. We have past examples to look up to – in the wake of the militant struggle for more hostels in 1998-1999 which forced the administration to build four new hostels, temporary accommodation was provided to the students in Mahanadi hostel and in private accommodation facilities outside the campus. Renting out private accommodation once again is very much a feasible option. Moreover, today in our campus there are many spacious faculty quarters which are lying vacant. The possibility of accommodating students who have not got hostels in such places on a temporary basis needs to be explored on an urgent basis. It is in fact troubling that the demand for such alternative arrangements has not got prominent mention in the demands raised by the JNUSU so far.

The Impending Hike in Mess Bills
The recently announced “big ticket” reforms by the UPA-II government, which include, among others, hikes in the prices of diesel and cooking gas which will cause all-round rises in prices and the cap imposed on the number of LPG cylinders made available at subsidized rates, have caused untold distress to the people of the country. The adverse effect of the decision to restrict the number of subsidised LPG cylinders is already being felt by students all across India. In Delhi, the rate at which LPG cylinders are made available to hostels has gone up by a whopping Rs. 676 rupees – the current rate is Rs. 1075 per cylinder compared to the earlier Rs 399 per cylinder. Hostels and schools have been included in the “non-domestic” category, which means that they will be forced to pay rates that are far higher than the rate paid by domestic consumers even on nonsubsidised cylinders. The implications of these rate hikes are immediate and grievous. Most hostels in our campus use about 80-90 LPG cylinders every month, and the hostel mess bills are set to go up by about Rs 170 – Rs 200 per student. Such increases in living expenses in a context of rising prices overall will increase the hardships of students, especially those belonging to deprived backgrounds.  The administration must take immediate steps to address this issue, by subsidising the extra expenses incurred on cylinders and by increasing the amount and number of scholarships.  Elsewhere in the country, mid-day meal schemes have been seriously affected, and hostels adversely affected by the LPG rate hike include numerous SC/ST/BC hostels with millions of residents. Among nonhostellers, more students would be going hungry as a result of this retrograde decision. The overall result would be that the dropout rates of students, particularly that of those belonging to deprived sections, would rise steeply, and education would become increasingly the preserve of the elite minority. According to the CAG’s Performance Audit Report on JNU submitted in the Parliament in 2012, the proportion of students who dropped out of / failed in BA (Hons.) courses ranged between 35 to 48 percent. In MA/M.Sc./MCA courses, this was between 18 to 22 percent. In five undergraduate courses, the percentage of student dropout during the first year was in the range of 19 to 64 per cent and in respect of postgraduate courses in four centres, it was in the range of 15 to 82 per cent. The increase in living expenses would certainly worsen the dropout rates in JNU.

Increase Scholarships!!
The impending hike in mess bills makes it all the more important that the amount and number of scholarships be increased. The MCM scholarships were increased from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1500 in 2006 after a valiant struggle by the JNUSU, and have not been increased ever since. The administration must be forced to increase the MCM amount and to link it to inflation. A corpus fund should be established by the University to ensure the timely disbursement of scholarships regardless of the delay in arrival of funds from concerned departments or agencies. Measures to avoid delays in the disbursal of scholarships (due to avoidable delays in issuing office orders, transferring scholarship amounts to accounts etc) must be taken. All SC/ST research students should be given Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship. The number of Maulana Azad Scholarships being offered to JNU students needs to be increased. There is also an urgent need to extend scholarships for Ph.D. students to the final year. Currently Ph.D. students get scholarships like JRF and non-NET UGC scholarships only till the third year, and it needs to be ensured that they get scholarships during the most crucial time of their research. 

Kopal, Umesh, Subin (For the SFI Unit Organising Committee, JNU)