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NUJS student bar prez expresses solidarity with protesting NUSRL students

Via NUSRL protest FB: “It’s 3:41 AM in the morning, the temperature reads 19C and Kanke somehow feels colder. About a hundred students still occupy the camp just inside the campus gates, half of the people are up, chatting, trying to keep the spirits high amongst hundreds of Mosquitoes pricking them...”
Via NUSRL protest FB: “It’s 3:41 AM in the morning, the temperature reads 19C and Kanke somehow feels colder. About a hundred students still occupy the camp just inside the campus gates, half of the people are up, chatting, trying to keep the spirits high amongst hundreds of Mosquitoes pricking them...”

The NUJS Kolkata student juridical association (SJA) president reacted to NUSRL Ranchi vice chancellor Prof BC Nirmal’s statement that NUSRL students are protesting on campus not for rights but for a holiday, calling him “delusional” and “plain indifferent”, in a Facebook post.

SJA president Arjun Agarwal wrote on his personal Facebook page that even a private university can provide basic amenities that are being denied to NUSRL students, for “a grand sum of Rs 1.9 lakh per amnum” as fees per student, without any state support.

He added that NUSRL’s problem pointed to a more systemic problem with NLUs which cannot really rely on their Executive Councils (EC), their chancellors, or their state governments to keep a check and balance on their administrations, as much as they can rely on a unified student body for this end.

Agarwal elaborated on the reasons in his post, with the composition and schedule of the ECs being one.

We had argued last week for a compulsory student association at each of the NLUs, particularly when NLU student associations are not aligned with national party politics, as Agarwal also points out in his post.

He finally questions why the administration shouldn’t resign or, in his words, “be in the dock” if there is no evidence of “ulterior motive” behind the protest of a law school’s student body.

Agarwal wrote in the Facebook post

I may not be the most vocal person on social media, but as someone who has had the privilege of serving as a student representative for almost four years now, I cannot not say how pained I am to see how the NUSRL administration has consistently failed the aspirations of our counterparts at that University over the past few years.

Envisioned to be ‘islands of excellence’ by their founding fathers, these Universities were formed to provide all-round legal education and academic development to their students. Unfortunately, the highly centralised administrations at these ‘autonomous’ institutions have completely cocooned themselves from needs and realities of their intended primary beneficiaries.

The general sense I get is that we are facing similar systematic issues at most of these islands of excellence (barring maybe a few exceptions) - highly centralized administrative set-ups, lack of basic transparency in administrative/financial matters and little regard for the aspirations of their primary (students) or secondary (academicians, professors and research scholars) beneficiaries. The first one is not just a problem, in and of itself, but also the larger underlying problem that aggravates the extent of almost all other problems – simply put, lack of accountability.

The very structure of the Executive Councils of these Universities is highly favourable to the regime at the helm at any given time. It mostly consists of several highly distinguished judges, ministers, bureaucrats and academicians. Most of the positions are ex-officio and it is quite improbable that any of these highly distinguished members can humanly find enough time from their full time profiles to oversee the state of affairs in these Universities. They typically meet for a few hours thrice a year or so. The respective VCs, of course, preside and brief the members on matters before them. In those few hours they are supposed to approve of all major decisions pertaining to employment, academics, finance, et al. It is easy in such circumstances for administrations to resist demands of students asking for representation before these bodies. The next authority the students can approach is the Chancellor, which is either the CJI or the CJ of the respective High Court.

This is coupled with another limb of the problem - insufficient state support. It causes a plethora of other related problems that, I’d admit, affect some of these institutions more than others based on the attitude of the respective state government.

As a result, these institutions have become highly privatised in their nature and most of them rely either completely or at least majorly on student fee for revenue. This causes the disposable capital to shrink, robbing the students of the much-needed governmental financial cushion which other comparable institutes such as the IITs and IIMs have always had.

While such a cushion is indispensable for purposes such as subsidisation of education and provision of many basic amenities, the ‘centralised’ nature of these administrations aggravates the situation by allowing them enough leeway to not even allocate the student fee such that it at least ensures maximisation of student welfare. For what I know about other Universities, students demands are always denied on the sole ground of insufficiency of funds. You look one level deeper and you see that if maximisation of student welfare is a consideration, there is gross mismanagement of funds – again, because of lack of accountability.

This one issue has consistently plagued the growth, academic and otherwise, of the “islands of excellence” since their very inception.

In such a set up, it becomes imperative for us - the student body, to play the function of basic checks and balances that are a quintessential pillar of any institutional set-up. As long as these administrations can manage to escape all other mechanisms (read: review commissions and inspections by the Chancellor) that are meant to ensure institutional accountability, it’s just our collective strength that we can hold on to.

However, even when it comes to student representation before authorities, it is yet again the same administrators who had either by omissions or commissions caused a demand to arise in the first place who decide the fate of such a demand. Students can try and appeal to higher authorities which are, as mentioned above, the Executive Council or the Chancellor.

If none of these authorities take cognisance of students’ basic demands for whatever reasons, what’s the alternative?

There is always a taboo attached around radical student collectivisation in this country. I, for one, will admit without any qualms that the insinuation of ulterior motives when politically-affiliated student bodies are behind such agitation is not entirely misplaced.

But, then again, what can be the possible reasons to question the motives of students bodies that are neither politically-affiliated nor politically-motivated? And if that’s not so, what gives a VC the authority to threaten action against the collective will of the primary stakeholders of the institution that he signed-up to lead to greater heights?

In other words, if there’s no possibility of existence of some conspicuous yet common ulterior motive that transcends all boundaries among the students of the University and the administration has evidently failed its students since its very inception, shouldn’t the VC and his administration be in the dock instead?

The NUSRL VC is reported to have said yesterday –

"अब कॉलेज बंद करने के अलावा हमारे पास कोई उपाय नहीं है। "
"इन्हें अधिकार नहीं छुट्टी चाहिए।"
"अनुशासनहिन छात्र ही बंद करवा रहे हैं।"

(We don’t have an option but to shut down the college. They are fighting for holidays and not rights. Undisciplined students have caused this shut down.)

The students have been endlessly demanding for rights as basic as hygienic food, basic transparency, proper classes, coded answer scripts, proper security and a rodent-free campus.

Even a private University can provide these basic amenities in lieu of a grand sum of 1.9 lakhs per annum without any state support. Cannot tell what’s worse: if the concerned VC is simply delusional or plain indifferent.

Either way, I couldn’t be prouder of those at NUSRL for yet again they have been able to draw enough strength from their collective aspirations and take a stand for the non-negotiable rights that we all deserve to have as students at any educational institution anywhere in the world.

Here’s to hoping they will succeed this time around.

More power to all of you! #SaveNUSRL

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