Govt goes soft on student unions, says they strengthen democracy

  • Neelam Pandey, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 30, 2016 20:09 IST
In this file photo, students of Hyderabad Central University stage a protest against the University VC demanding justice for dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. (PTI Photo)

Campus politics is here to stay.

The government seems to have gone back on a plan to restrict student groups and free speech on college and university campuses, shows a document released by the HRD Ministry on Wednesday for public feedback.

The document called ‘some inputs for draft national education policy 2016’ says the human resource development ministry “encourage(s) the positive role played by students’ union”, an about turn on TSR Subramanian panel’s suggestion for a ban on student groups explicitly based on caste, religion or any political party.

The government came in for all-round criticism over some of the recommendations of the Subramanian panel, which was set up in 2015 to overhaul education system, from school to university, in first such attempt in almost 30 years.

Though the report has not been released, over the last few weeks its content has been made public and is available online.

Read| Campus politics to board exams: Highlights of education policy recommendations

Subramanian, a former cabinet secretary, said in the report the committee had consulted senior advocate who had pointed out “prohibiting such activities within the campuses – or within a radius thereof – will be considered as reasonable”.

But, the government has taken a much lenient view. The draft says the government will encourage the positive role played by students’ unions in furthering the interests of democracy “and strengthening the democratic systems, governance and processes as well as debates, discussions and pluralism of thoughts”.

Almost all political parties have a campus presence. Some of them have student wings while others are more discreet in their support.

The government, however, has hinted at measure to discourage students from overstaying on campuses. The Subramanian panel is in favour of restricting the time students can stay in university hostels or remain enrolled in a course after complaints that many pupils at leading institutes took years to graduate.

The Hyderabad suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula that triggered nation-wide protests seems to have a bearing on the draft as well. All institutions will put in place an “effective grievance redressal mechanism” and follow the principles of natural justice before taking any punitive action against any student, faculty or organisation, it says.

The Subramanian panel report didn’t make such a suggestion. Vemula hanged himself on January 17 alleging caste discrimination.

The panel had cited the Supreme Court to back curbs on student groups, saying the court had accepted a number of recommendations “which inter-alia correspond to curbing the activities of student unions etc., which could potentially disrupt the academic atmosphere”.

The ministry has started the process of consulting states over the draft while public has been asked to email their suggestions by July 31.

The ministry, sources said, was miffed with Subramanian after he wrote a letter to minister Smriti Irani, asking her to make the report public.

Read| Govt proposes time limit for enrolment in a course, occupying hostels

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