A recent survey on the effectiveness of student representatives at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), conducted by the institute's in-house magazine ‘Insight’, revealed a divided house. While 46% respondents believe that the general secretaries do have an impact on the students' lives, 43% don't think so. Many respondents said that the secretaries fail to implement the long-term plans mentioned in their election manifestos. Some suggested that the secretaries lack the power to create any impact.
With the state government, through its new universities act, planning to reintroduce student elections and involve them in the universities' decision-making process, the student representatives are likely to gain more importance.
Like their IITB counterparts, the students from other city colleges are also divided on the effectiveness of student bodies in their present form. While in the central institutes like IITB and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the representatives are elected by the students themselves, law prohibits student elections in colleges affiliated to the state's public universities. The student council members are nominated by the college, often based on their academic performance, without students having any role in their selection of candidates.
In the recent years, organising college festivals and other events has been the primary role of student representatives. They also assist teachers and college staff during the hectic admission season. "Whatever they do, they do it effectively," said Ishan Jawrani, a student from HR College, Churchgate.
But students have mixed views, especially when it comes to the most important responsibility of their representatives - working as a bridge between their peers and the administration. Some believe that the student councils are doing a good job taking students' grievances to the authorities.
"When I encountered an error while applying online at the institute's website, I intimated our technical secretary. He talked to the administration and got the issue resolved. Our general secretary has also been very helpful to me," said Amir Nurle, a student from Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Matunga.
Sachin Pawar, a student from New law College in Matunga, offered a contrary view. “The council members can’t do anything because they are not elected. They can’t go against the college administration . They don’t have any rights.”
Surprisingly, many students are not in favour of elections and instead prefer the nomination route of appointing the body. “A lot of biases come into play when students vote for their representatives. I think the teachers know better,” said Jawrani.
Akash Chikhlikar, who conducted the IITB survey, said that the students’ opinion about their representatives often depend on their closeness with them. “Unless you personally know the representative, you may not be aware of the work done by him or her,” he said.