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Nuals Kochi VC: Ready to reconsider new hostel rules if they are as draconian, arbitrary as feared by inmates [UPDATE: Additional VC comment]

VC vows that ready to ‘pull down’ new rules if ‘really unreasonable’
VC vows that ready to ‘pull down’ new rules if ‘really unreasonable’

Nuals Kochi has enacted new disciplinary rules for those staying in its hostels, banning them from ridiculing other persons or organisations on social media, banning them from speaking to the press without permission and imposing “seven days of grounding” and a Rs 2,000 fine on anyone who “misbehaves with fellow hostellers” or staff.

Two students we spoke to last week, have said that the rules appear draconian and violative of their fundamental rights, and it is understood that students would be considering making a representation to the administration about the rules after the term holidays.

Nuals vice chancellor Prof Rose Varghese told us earlier this week that there was nothing to worry about: “It’s a law university, so we won’t do anything violating fundamental rights. The students know me and I’m the most approachable vice chancellor. Don’t worry, I’m very broad minded, and I’m very much aware. And I tell them, why don’t you enjoy your life, as I enjoyed my college life.”

“I’m a very approachable vice chancellor, they are free to come and tell me which rule they find uncomfortable, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. I won’t let there be a rule that violates fundamental rights,” she added.

When asked about students potentially submitting a representation to the administration about the rules, she said: "Let them come, no problem. If it’s really unreasonable, I myself will pull it down.”

The Hostel (Conduct and Discipline) Rules 2017 (available here and below), which were disseminated on 24 May, start off with a preamble of its intention:

It is the desire of the hostel administration to make this place a happy, convenient and congenial one, in term of infrastructure, facilities and food. For this, the co-operation of students is also expected. Rules have to be framed and rules have to be adhered to.

Some of the rules are fairly standard, such as “inmates” not damaging university property or safety precautions, such as banning “electrical gadgets” such as heaters, irons and televisions (but also electrical “musical instruments”, for some reason). Others, such as encouraging energy-saving by turning off lights in bathrooms when not using them are also understandable (though perhaps the ability of wardens to impose fines on violators, could be seen as a bit harsh).

Students are also exhorted to keep “rooms, corridors, staircases and bathrooms spotlessly clean and tidy at all times"; “hostellers violating this rule may be expelled from the hostel”. There is a 7 pm curfew for students.

However, several students spoken to have said that some of the rules in fact violate students’ fundamental rights.

15. Misuse of Internet and Online Social Media: Any act of uploading derogatory remarks or image ridiculing a person in the eyes of others against the University or any other person or organization will invite disciplinary action. Hosteller should strictly refrain from indulging in any act of violating the code of internet use. Hostellers who are found visiting blocked/banned websites using proxy servers and other means shall be expelled from the hostel.”

In respect of the social media restrictions, Varghese said (apparently referencing water problems in the state, which we had reported had resulted in a Hepatitis A outbreak earlier this year leading to postponed exams): “When there was a water problem, somebody spread some wrong rumour about Nuals, so we tell students not to tell without knowing facts... Now everything is fine. It is misleading for new students who are applying. They will think it’s a hell of a place, but when they come it’s beautiful.”

"I don’t want people to put negative things and spoil our reputation, that’s the only thing,” Varghese added.

Other rules that students have criticised include the following as giving too much power to wardens to impose fines arbitrarily, which could encourage their moral policing:

"The hosteller shall take prior written permission of the Warden before giving any information or interview regarding the Hostel to any member of the Press, Print Media, Radio, Television or any other media or before making any speech containing any information regarding the Hostel.”

“Any hosteller who misbehaves with fellow hostellers, other residents of the hostel or with any person working in the hostel including the security staff, mess staff, cleaners and others, shall be punished with seven days of GROUNDING along with a fine of Rs. 2,000/- (Rupees Two thousand only).”

6. Misbehaviour with the guards or speaking with the guards in an unruly manner would lead to imposition of a fine of Rs. 500/- (Rupees Five hundred only). It is for the security of the inmates that security personal are appointed and it is in your own interest and that of the Institution that they are appointed. So unwanted words or misbehaviour towards them would be viewed very seriously.

Expellable offences: ‘Unauthorised meetings’, ‘visiting each other’s room very frequently’

There are also quite a few grounds for expulsion or suspension, according to the rules (emphasis added):

34) Disciplinary Action: Any hosteller found to be guilty of gross-misconduct, indecent manners, misbehaviour or undesired and illegal activities shall be liable and for which disciplinary action can be initiated including expulsion or suspension from the hostel or levying of fines/penalties. In appropriate cases, the University reserves the right to expel/suspend such hostellers from the University. A Disciplinary Committee for the same has been constituted by the Vice Chancellor.

Explanation: For the purpose of this rule, gross misconduct, indecent manners, misbehaviour, undesirable and illegal activities shall mean and include the following:-

a) Wanton waste of water or electricity or using any electric connection for operating personal gadgets including iron boxes, stoves, etc. without prior permission from the hostel authorities.

b) Playing music loudly or making loud noise so as to disturb the hostel environment or neighbourhood.

c) Holding unauthorized meetings and demonstrations.

d) Visiting each other’s room very frequently and at odd times (after 09.00 p.m.) disturbing the atmosphere for studies.

e) Permitting day scholars/outsiders inside the hostel premises.

f) Any form of gambling in the hostel premises.

g) Smoking and consumption of alcoholic drinks and drugs injurious to health anywhere inside the University campus or entering the University campus under the influence of alcohol and taking of drugs in any form.

h) Indulging in ragging or behaving in a perverse manner so as to cause physical/mental torture to any co-hosteller /hosteller of the University.

i) Keeping any article or thing which is likely to cause damage or hurt to anyone by throwing the same intentionally or otherwise outside hostel windows.

j) Hanging of clothes, linen, mattresses etc. on windowsills, balconies or any other place other than that allotted for the purpose.

Last year NUJS Kolkata had drafted service rules for staff (which turned out to have been plagiarised) that were draconian and had similar restrictions to Nuals’, particularly in respect to freedom of expression.

Update: VC Rose Varghese added in a statement:

As long as you mention that if there is anything violative of fundamental rights, I will look into it, it is ok. But I also said that I did not notice anything like that. In fact, I gave them this opening para which you call the preamble. Is it not true? We want our students to have a congenial atmosphere. And I said all these are common hostel rules. I said my focus is taking NUALS forward to great heights to parallel global institutions maintaining a very high academic standard. The hostel should also provide a congenial academic atmosphere, so that my students excel and get the best placements. Their academic career and placements in top legal firms will be affected if you project my students in a negative way when I am proud of my students. Every Institution has rules but for those who are career - oriented and where they have an excellent library which is open till 11 p.m. they can be focused and bring pride to their parents and to the institution and at the end of the day be proud of themselves when they emerge as the leading lawyers of the country. I am proud of my students who won so many laurels at National and International Moots and represented India at Jessup, Washington DC., at Netherlands, Leiden Air Law Moot, at Frankfurt International Arbitration Moot and besides one of our students have been selected for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. For those who are here to make a career for themselves, they will never regret for joining NUALS. Moreover we have a very committed and dedicated Faculty of whom I am really proud. I will be thankful to you if you bring out the positive aspects of NUALS as that will benefit the career of my beloved students.

Nuals Kochi allegedly draconian hostel rules (PDF)

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