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.
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)
Over the past few weeks, the Congress-led UPA government has unleashed a fresh set of attacks on the lives and livelihoods of the common people of India. The cap imposed on the number of LPG cylinders made available at subsidised rates has hit the people hard. The adverse effect of this decision is already being felt by students all across the country.
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. To cite another example, in Tamil Nadu, the rate at which cylinders are made available to schools providing food to students under the mid-day meal scheme is now Rs. 1191.50, compared to the subsidised rate of Rs. 419.50 for domestic consumers. Hostels and schools have now 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 non-subsidised cylinders.
The implications of these rate hikes are grievous. Mid-day meal schemes have been seriously affected already in many parts of the country. Hostel mess bills are set to go up sharply, which would put education out of reach for a substantial section of students. The affected hostels include numerous SC/ST/BC hostels with millions of residents. Among non-hostellers, more students would be going hungry as a result of the adverse impact of this retrograde decision on their families. 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.
The SFI Central Executive Committee appeals to the students of the country to rise up against this reactionary move by the central government, and calls upon its state units to strengthen protest actions to force the government to roll back its decision.
The Central Executive Committee of the Students’ Federation of India congratulates the students of Himachal Pradesh and the state unit of SFI for registering an impressive victory in the SCA elections. The elections were held on 23rd of August.
Out of the 300 panel pots throughout the state SFI candidates have been victorious in 102. Himachal Pradesh University once again confirmed itself to be a bastion of SFI. Out of the 49 Department Representatives SFI candidates won in 46. ABVP with 2 has been the nearest finisher!!! NSUI won 1 DR post. In the four central posts SFI panel registered its ever highest victory in the history of the SCA elections of HPU. Rahul Chauhan won the President post by a margin of 713 votes. The POST OF THE Vice President was won by Priyanka Chauhan by margin of 570 votes. Vikram Kayet and Amit Kumar won the posts of General Secretary and Joint Secretary respectively. The margins were 696 and 751.
SFI panel won completely in 18 colleges. Out of the four panel posts SFI won three in 8 colleges. In Shimla district SFI won 35 panel posts out of the total 48. SFI swept the election in the colleges of Shimla town. SFI candidates won all the 16 panel posts in the four colleges(Kotshira Government College, Rajakiya Kanya Mahavidyalay,Sanjoli College and Shimla Evening College) of Shimla town.
The victory is specially significant because the BJP government in the state with the aid of the state administration and the College and University authorities has been constantly hatching conspiracies against the SFI. Particularly in the HPU campus the Vice Chancellor Prof A D N Bajpayee had misused all his power to defeat SFI and create favourable ground for the ABVP. Blue eyed boy of the RSS, Prof Bajpayee had openly urged students to support the ABVP candidates.besides being regularly participating in open programmes of Viswa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal he Recently even inaugurated the office of VHP at Shimla. He was unable to digest the huge victory of SFI last year also and delayed the oath taking ceremony of the elected SCA by 7 months. False cases against the SFI activists were filed and six SFI activists including the elected President, General Secretary and Vice President were put behind bars for 29 days.
The victory of SFI in HPU and the colleges of Himachal Pradesh is a source of tremendous inspiration for the rank and file of SFI throughout the country and will strengthen the nationwide struggle for campus democracy. It is to be noted that only a few days ago SFI has also performed well in the College and University Union elections of Rajasthan also. The CEC of SFI once again congratulates the students of Himachal and our valiant comrades for registering such an emphatic win against all odds.
The 10-day long indefinite hunger strike for the fulfillment of various important demands of the student community was called off on 2 November, after the JNUSU reached an ‘agreement of understanding’ with the administration. Among the demands were the reduction in the weightage given to viva voce in the JNU entrance test, provision of deprivation points to backward minorities, building of new hostels, increase in MCM scholarships and other demands. While a few demands have been met (assurances regarding some of the most important among them, concerning the autonomy of the GSCASH and student representation in Equal Opportunity Office, were given by the administration even before the indefinite hunger strike began), the administration has been non-committal on the demands which the agitation focussed on.
On the Issue of Hostels
Even as the monsoon semester is winding to a close, hundreds of students are yet to get hostels, faced with the hardships forced upon them due to the callousness of the administration. Facilities like SR/TR and dormitories, which are temporary arrangements, have been touted as substitutes for hostel rooms. In addition to these, there is an acute shortage of single seaters for research scholars, especially women. That new hostels have to be built on an urgent basis was, and continues to be, a core demand of the student community, but JNUSU’s agreement with the administration merely says, “Attempt will be made to build two hostels by 2014 based on the funds made available in the 12th Plan.” Going by the current trends, this would mean that by 2014, about 1500 students would remain without hostels, seriously compromising the character of JNU as a residential campus. Moreover, there is absolutely no mention of adequate temporary accommodation arrangements for students without hostels.
On Merit-Cum-Means (MCM) cholarships
Based on the huge increase in living expenses during the past six years since the last increase in MCM scholarships, the demand of the student community was that the MCM amount be doubled, from Rs.1500 to Rs.3000. But when it came up in the negotiations, the administration had the audacity to claim, in the first draft of the agreement of understanding, that “the University has been meeting expenditure on this (MCM) out of fees collected from students. The financial liability (sic.) at present rates of scholarship is more than Rs.2 crores whereas the amount of fees collected is roughly around 1.5 crores.” This utterly reactionary stance (which, in keeping with the neoliberal agenda of turning to “internal sources of revenue” to finance scholarships rather than considering financial assistance for students as a right) was repeated even in the second draft of the agreement. That the JNUSU leadership allowed such a stand to creep into the second draft was worrying, and after a united opposition from all organisations, the offending clause was dropped from the agreement. The final agreement says, “The University will take up this matter with the UGC as well as other agencies to generate funds for increasing the MCM fellowship amount up to Rs.3000/- from the next semester. The University will convey the status report regarding this matter in January 2013.” In other words, the student community will have to wait till the next year to get a clear picture on the issue.
On Viva Voce
The JNU administration has announced the setting up of another committee to consider the creation of “a structured and objective system for viva voce evaluation”, which effectively postpones the fulfillment of the demand to reduce the weightage of viva voce in JNU entrance. Some teachers even made open threats that the written exam would be made tougher to keep out students if the weightage of viva voce is reduced. While resolutely opposing such intimidating tactics, the attempts by the administration to create a wedge between the students and the teachers on this issue will have to be guarded against. The JNUSU leadership does not seem
to have even raised the demand to restore the role of the SFCs in the viva voce process, which would have been a significant measure to prevent discrimination and harassment in the viva voce.
On Deprivation Points for Backward Minorities
The University has agreed to form a committee to ascertain the legal/social position regarding the issue of provision of deprivation points to religious minorities. In the coming days, the JNUSU will have to carry forward the struggle to integrate the Ranganath Mishra Commission recommendations in the Admission Policy of the University. The Ranganath Mishra Commission, to recall, had observed that ‘positive discrimination on the ground of caste or religion coupled with other grounds such as social and educational backwardness is constitutionally permissible and, therefore, under a given circumstance it may be possible to treat a caste or religious group as a “class”.’ The Commission had argued that “Since the minorities – especially the Muslims – are very much underrepresented, and sometimes wholly unrepresented, in government employment, we recommend that they should be regarded as backward in this respect within the meaning of that term as used in Article 16 (4) of the Constitution”. The student community will also have to remain vigilant against formulations such as “if society is divided on the basis of religion, we will provide reservation on the basis of religion” (put forward by the President of SFI-JNU), which would become fodder to majoritarian communal forces, which see the demand for deprivation points as “minority appeasement” (ABVP pamphlet dated 29.10.2012).
The Balance of Political Forces since 2007 Remains Unchanged The developments since 2007 in the campus (which included, but were not confined to, the clampdown on student union elections) have meant a shift in the balance of political forces in favour of the administration, exemplified by the sheer volume of anti-student moves on its part during the last five years. The course and outcome of the agitation shows that this objective situation, whereby the hand of the administration has been strengthened at the cost of the students’ movement, has not been reversed. The JNUSU leadership, through speeches and pamphlets, has been trying to pacify the students by talking about “in principle acceptance from the administration”, seeing the outcome of the agitation as “a step forward”, “substantial advance” etc, instead of engaging in a concrete review of the agitation.
Sectarianism within JNUSU
The course of the agitation has also brought out in the open the sectarian nature of the differences of opinion between the organisations leading the JNUSU. Instead of sincere attempts to preserve the struggling unity of the JNUSU, what came out in the open was a fight between the leading organisations regarding competing demands and priorities, with the student community remaining largely in the dark. Such differences of opinion among the organisations that lead the union should be settled in the JNUSU council or at the UGBM rather than allowing them to affect the much-required unity in the course of the agitation. The office-bearers of the JNUSU should also be conscious of the message that is conveyed by quarrelling among themselves in public in the midst of an important agitation. Such acts that denigrate the highest platform of the JNU students would serve only to strengthen the hands of the administration.
SFI congratulates the student community of JNU for their participation in the agitation fought under the leadership of the JNUSU, and pledges to stand by the JNUSU in carrying our struggle forward to its logical conclusion.
Kopal, Manu, Viswanathan
(For the SFI Unit Organising Committee, JNU)