JNU hostel committees demand waiver of hostel, mess charges
Hostel committee presidents of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have written to the Dean of Students, demanding a waiver of the hostel and mess charges and urging that a circular asking the students to clear their dues before registering for the monsoon semester be withdrawn.
In a related development, the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) also wrote to the university authorities “to urgently approve and act upon initiating a phased return of students, starting on a priority basis with those stuck in Delhi-NCR and otherwise bona-fide residents and students, and terminal-year research scholars”.
They also appealed that research scholars be granted an extension of six months from the date of entry to submit their thesis or dissertations and those who are unable to return to Delhi be given a further extension.
The letter of the hostel committees said the JNU administration has initiated the registration process of the monsoon semester 2020 “at a time when the worsening pandemic situation and the administrative response have led to a majority of students not being present on the campus”.
“Most of the students left the campus in March after an administrative circular advised them to do so. While they have neither availed mess nor hostel facilities since, they are being arbitrarily and unjustly charged for the same. Similarly, if students have not used hostel facilities such as their rooms, utensils or crockery, the charges are not logical at this juncture,” it said.
In a circular issued on August 14, the JNU administration announced the online registration for the monsoon semester and said the students are required to pay all their dues such as tuition fees, hostel fees, mess charges etc.
The letter also alleged that huge discrepancies were observed in the mess bills of students.
“The residents that remain on campus have not been provided breakfast since the lockdown commenced, yet the mess bill for the students exceed what could be presumed reasonable,” it alleged.
It also claimed that the quality of meals, in terms of nutrition and variety, too has been far lower than what is usually provided.
“Even though the mess bills have been clearly inflated artificially, the mess secretaries have not been given the opportunity to examine the bills for discrepancies in a clear violation of the provisions of the Hostel Manual,” it said.
The letter also stated that even before the lockdown began and the campus was vacated, most of the due fellowships were not disbursed. “Even now, the situation has not improved much, with most students not having received either one or even two semesters of fellowship. In this situation, expecting students to pay mess dues is illogical, while forcing the same is unjust,” it said.
The letter appealed to the Office of the Dean of Students to recommend the withdrawal of mess dues, “wherever published, until the same is examined and audited by the concerned mess secretary”.
“After the same is done, students should not be coerced to pay the bill until and unless their due fellowships for the last two semesters are disbursed,” it said.
According to a JNU official, the students have not received inflated mess bills and have not paid their dues from January to March. He said it is mandatory that the dues are cleared before students are allowed to register for the monsoon semster.
The university administration had asked the students to vacate the hostels on March 19 while citing the Covid-19 situation and an order of the Delhi government to close all institutions till March 30.
The students’ union urged the JNU authorities to allow the students to return and cited internet connectivity issues in far-flung areas and the absence of laptops and books with students.
“For many, JNU provides a more viable place for their research than their family residence. Furthermore, students from Jammu and Kashmir are unable to continue their academics due to the internet speed ban that has been in place there. A similar predicament is faced by students who hail from regions with intermittent internet and electricity access,” the JNUSU said. It added that presuming that the closure would be short, a number of students did not take their laptops and books, and claimed that the university has not even allowed them to return to take their belongings back.
“In academic programmes like the Sciences, Computer Application and Geography/Population Studies, it is nearly impossible to write thesis or dissertations without practical work which is inaccessible. Hence, asking the students to submit on December 31 for these reasons is unfair and impossible,” the students’ body said.
It urged the university to reconsider its decision and said the Delhi government has already stated that it is willing to play its part in facilitating the entry of students after a proper screening and testing.
“More than that, the university has got plenty of space, resources and means to set up isolation centres, quarantine facilities and other related logistics. Many other universities have initiated plans to facilitate a phased return of research students,” it said.