Bengal professors slam draft rules curbing criticism of state government
Associations of college and university teachers have reacted sharply to the plan of the Mamata Banerjee government to prevent teachers in service from criticising the in West Bengal government and its decisions in public forum, including the media.
A 28-page draft of West Bengal Universities and Colleges (Administration and Regulations) Rules, 2018 that was drawn up earlier this year was leaked on Sunday.
Among other restrictions, it proposed that teachers would need written permission from the vice-chancellor to publish any article that does not exclusively deal with matters of the arts, literature and science.
“It’s unacceptable. We demand immediate scrapping of the rules. Teachers, staff and officers at Jadavpur University will observe a two-hour sit-in demonstration on April 26 and the agitation may be stepped up subsequently,” said Partha Pratim Ray, assistant secretary of Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA).
Education minister and Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee claimed, “The allegations of curbing freedom of speech is far from the truth. It constitutes blatant lie.”
“No employee of the University shall without the written permission of the vice-chancellor publish anonymously or in his own name or in the name of any other person in the press or any electronic media any document or make any statement of fact or opinion (a) that has the effect of adverse criticism of any current policy or action of the state government or the central government and (b) that is capable of embarrassing the relations between the state government and the central government or the government of any other state or foreign state,” reads clause 8 of the draft Rules.
The rules were framed following the Act passed last year. On February 8, a seven-member committee was set up for formulating the rules.
Syed Tanveer Nasreen, a professor of department of history in the University of Burdwan and a frequent columnist in various newspapers, expressed shock.
“This is draconian. Why should I need permission from the VC to comment on issues related to gender, social causes and even politics? Higher academicians around the world share their opinion in the media freely. I do not think the government can ultimately implement the plan,” Nasreen said.
Professors also pointed out section 21 of the rules that stated, “An appeal against the order imposing any of the penalties imposed by the syndicate or the executive council or the governing body/administrator shall lie to a tribunal to be constituted by the state government.”
The same section proceeds to say, “The decision of the tribunal shall be final and binding upon the university or college concerned and the appellant and no suit or proceeding shall lie to any civil court against the order of the tribunal.”
Lawyer and Congress leader Arunabha Ghosh said that the provisions of the draft rules barring employees from moving court against the decision of the appellate tribunal would not stand the scrutiny of the law. “How can one be barred from moving court?” Ghosh asked.
“It is comparable to imposition of Emergency in the education sphere. Instead of encouraging free thinking, the government is trying to turn colleges and universities into jails,” said professor Tarun Kanti Naskar, who is also an MLA from Left party SUCI(C) and is the president of West Bengal University Teachers’ Association (ABUTA).
“We’ll involve all stakeholders to launch a massive protest,” Naskar added.
Apart from restricting college and university teachers from sharing opinion, the rules also proposes to link teachers’ income with promotion and transfer.
However, it was not clear from the draft what will be the relation between promotions and the assets of the teachers.
Clause 5(10) of the rules read, “The annual confidential report (ACR), performance appraisal report (PAR) and the annual declaration of assets of every employee of universities and colleges shall be taken into consideration during promotion. All such reports shall also be taken into consideration during transfer.”
The probation period has been extended from one year to three years and the medial and police verification will be conducted during the probation.
“This means, the government will have the way of manipulating teachers in probation,” Ray alleged.