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A textbook NLU protest with (some) results: RMLNLU students fight for funds, transparency, file 300 RTIs • Admin engages, gives concessions

Administrations do yield, if students follow a systematic and persistent approach to increase transparency in their institution. RMLNLU demonstrates how, step-by-step

Result: #RMLUnited saw students begin to change the things they don’t like about their law school (Photo credit: Lakshya Dheer)
Result: #RMLUnited saw students begin to change the things they don’t like about their law school (Photo credit: Lakshya Dheer)

RMLNLU Lucknow is trying to increase financial transparency, after differences with students over its annual sports budget led to wider student protests alleging that the administration was “obtuse” and adopted a “systematic heel-dragging and opaque procedure” that led to “devaluation of curricular and welfare events”.

The protests were held from 12 January to 15 January, before the law school’s administrative block, and were also accompanied by the filing of 300 Right to Information (RTI) applications by students seeking the law school’s detailed financial accounts. The cost of these applications was covered by YellowKaagaz – a non-government organisation started up by RMLNLU alumni. ++Protestant seeds++ According to several sources in the student body, the protests were triggered by the administration’s alleged interference in the sports committee’s organisation of the annual sports fest. The administration had suggested cost cutting measures such as allegedly asking the students to circulate handmade instead of printed posters for the event.

Eventually, all students of the law school joined the boycott to question the alleged “misapplication” of the university’s funds.

One student commented: “It started off with a few questions in the students’ minds that why is there a misapplication of funds. If the college goes for getting the walls whitewashed but then there are no funds for students to attend conferences and seminars - this is what triggered off the protest. Why are they investing in things which are trivial and not in the students’ interest? Whitewashing every 2 years doesn’t make sense. Even if they are not misappropriating the money they are misapplying it.”

In the charter of demands prepared by the students, and presented before the administration during the protests, the students asked for 10 different kinds of financial details, from April 2013 to the current financial year. These were categories such as: >grants provided for maintenance, conferences, events, centres, dignitary visits, construction, renovation, equipment, travel and lodging of the vice chancellor and other officials, bills of facilities provided to university officials, breakdown of “utility charge’ in the fee, procedure of selection and allocation of specific tenders, among other things.

Read full charter by students

Administration responds proactively with some disclosures

Responses to the RTIs are awaited but in the last month the administration has begun publishing on its website minutes of meetings of as long ago as January 2016, from its finance committee, executive council and academic council, as well as details of budgetary spending and grants received.

The vice chancellor, Prof Gurdip Singh, who was not on campus due to travel at the time of the protests, later responded to the students’ charter, and some student committee heads recorded the responses in this document. The document, which was shared with us by students, published on a closed Facebook group of which al RMLNLU students are members.

Prof Singh did not respond to requests for comment since yesterday.

Read student records of VC responses

RMLNLU sports committee’s chairperson in the faculty, Dr Manish Singh told us that the protests were the result of students having been “misinformed”.

“Actually when the government allocates budget for certain activities it has to be utilised for that purpose only. After 10 years it is a rule that certain maintenance is to be done. We don’t even get that money, it goes straight to the Nirmaan Nigam and it carries out the maintenance activities,” said Manish Singh.

The sports fest: A (slightly) bigger budget granted

RMLNLU Lucknow has now also approved a slightly bigger sports budget for its annual sports fest Aavahan.

“Actually there has been a notification issued by the finance officer in the form of advisory - the students took it in the form of a mandatory order to be followed where they had been asked to cut the costs on certain aspects such as banner costs. It was only issued so that funds may not be used on activities that are not so useful,” said Manish Singh.

He said that RMLNLU had initially passed a sports budget of Rs 5.5 lakh, and has now increased it to 6 lakh, after the protests. Also, the students have reduced their initial demand of Rs 12 lakh to Rs 9 lakh, Rs 3 lakh out of which is expected to be covered by registration fees for the fest.

“Actually earlier, the budget was not properly made. [For instance] Why should accommodation (to participants) be given outside campus, when their parents of those attending are more comfortable with them staying inside our campus? So, the faculty and the students sat together and came out with a revised budget,” added Manish Singh.

Singh said that while the sports fest was wrapped up in a total budget of Rs 5 lakh last year, this year the students wanted to “make it a big affair”, by inviting more colleges and including more activities in the athletics segment, among other things, which is why they had asked for a bigger budgetary allocation.

He said that the administration was open to covering any costs not covered by registrations for the fest, by downsizing the budgets of other student committees and giving additional funds to the sports committee.

A cooperative atmosphere

One RMLNLU student commented: “For institutes like this, you must note that no [National Law University] gives out the expenses. They don’t put it up for students to see. So I think the administration is very much cooperating right now.

The student added: “They are saving themselves by putting up information which they think will not hamper the relationship between the students and the administration or will not ignite another protest, but still some of the information we wanted is still not there.”

Manish Singh commented: “The protests started on the day the VC had to go out of station, most of the students were not properly informed of certain things. The students now understand the point of view given to them by us. The VC spoke on phone [with the students] the same day that [the financial officer’s notification] is just an advisory and whatever you [the students] want you will be given.”

Manish Singh also added that a funding crunch was “never felt” at RMLNLU. “Whenever we demand we get the funds from the state government”.

Student protests against RMLNLU’s administration last time - in May 2014 - had also resulted in a win for the student body, when in the administration agreed to slash tuition fees by almost one-third.

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