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Wary of violence, is Maharashtra government dragging its feet on college elections?

The persistent delay in forming statutes, or by-laws, for campus elections has led student organisations to cast a doubt on the state government’s willingness to conduct elections in the next academic year. 

mumbai Updated: Apr 01, 2017 23:30 IST
Musab Qazi
“The government is worried that, as in the past, the elections may result in some untoward incident, which may escalate,
“The government is worried that, as in the past, the elections may result in some untoward incident, which may escalate," said an official. 

The persistent delay in forming statutes, or by-laws, for campus elections has led student organisations to cast a doubt on the state government’s willingness to conduct elections in the next academic year. 

It has been four months since the state legislature passed the Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016, which reintroduced student elections in the state after a gap of over two decades, and a month since the Act was enacted. But the government is yet to put in place the statutes that will provide guidelines to implement various provisions of the Act. Interestingly, the process of statute-formation had begun months before the Act was passed. 

Officials from the state higher and technical education ministry said by-laws dealing with university authorities and bodies — such as deans and directors of various departments, senate, academic council, management council and boards of studies — are expected tocome up by next week. However, those dealing with student elections are unlikely any time soon. 

This is because, according to a senior official, the government is wary of violence on campus during student polls. He said the government wants to put in place stringent rules, before sounding the election bugle. 

“The government is worried that, as in the past, the elections may result in some untoward incident, which may escalate," said the official. 

However, state higher education minister Vinod Tawde asserted that he had no intention of postponing the elections. "I am taking all efforts to ensure that elections are conducted this academic year. People in the government were not even in favour of the new Act, but I got it passed. The statutes will come soon," he said.

The official was less optimistic. When asked about the polls next year, he replied, “Let’s see.”

A member of statute-formation committee said, “The principals are still wary that elections might spoil the academic environment of the campus.”

With the issues of criminalisation and lack of financial transparency plaguing student elections across the country, the Centre, in 2005, constituted a committee, headed by former chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh. It recommended a number of restrictive measures. The government, said the official, believes that measures are not “good enough” for the state. 

Notwithstanding lack of assurance from government officials, student bodies have started strategising. “We are awaiting the announcement from the government. Meanwhile, we continue our preparation,” said Rohit Chandode, state secretary of ABVP. Student elections were banned in the state in 1994, after a spate of kidnappings and violence became the trademark of campus politics.  The violence reached a tipping point on October 5, 1989 when Owen D'souza, a student at Jitendra Chauhan College in Vile Parle and a district president of NSUI was brutally murdered outside the college.

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