'Public Universities Can't Put The Burden of Paying Contractual Staff On Students': Delhi HC Issues Notice On JNUSU Plea Against New Hostel Manual

By - Karan Tripathi
Update: 2020-01-24 08:12 GMT
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The Delhi High Court on Friday issued a notice to Jawaharlal Nehru University to file a reply in 2 weeks, in a plea moved by JNU Students Union challenging the new hostel manual.

In addition to the University administration, notices have also been issued to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the University Grants Commission.

The Single Bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher has granted an interim relief allowing the 10% students who have not registered so far, to do the same within a week, at a fee prevailing before the revision of rates. It is also directed that no late fee shall be charged from such students at the time of registration.

The court has further noted that, even though it is argued by the University that there's no difference between the old and the new manual regarding the reserved categories, the students falling in such categories shall be registered as per the old manual in case a conflict arises.

Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) had moved the Delhi High Court in order to challenge the amendments made to the Hostel Manual by the University administration.

Filed by JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh, Vice President Saket Moon, General Secretary Satish Chandra Yadav, and Joint Secretary Md Danish, the petition challenges the decision of the Inter Hostel Administration by citing it as malafide, arbitrary, illegal and adversely affecting the student community.

Amendments to the Hostel Manual include an increase in hostel fee, affecting the rights of those in reserved categories vis a vis allocation of hostel rooms and also reduce the representation of the JNUSU in the IHA amongst several other changes.

The petition has also challenged the Minutes of IHA Meeting which states that mess services, sanitation services, room charges, amongst others category of charges will be increased by 10% every Academic Year.

Petitioners have stated that the IHA gave a notice regarding the meeting to the student representatives, only 30 minutes prior to its commencement.

It is argued that this action of the Chairperson of the IHA insured that the IHA was held with no student representation, defeating the mandate of the Hostel Manual of including the views of the stakeholders when changing the provisions of the Hostel Manual.

The student body, thereafter, made multiple representations to the University Administration regarding the procedural violations. However, it is alleged, that the University refused to take any action and also went on to ratify the meeting.

It is highlighted in the petition, that the report of a High Level Committee which was constituted later, and which had also suggested changes to the Hostel Manual, is also illegal.

The Petitioners have cited the Merit-cum-Means Scholarship programme, which provides scholarship to students whose income does not exceed INR 2, 50,000, to argue that the students who fall under the category of merit cum means scholarship benefited from a reduced rate in terms of Hostel room rent. Now, this right has been retracted due to the illegal decision making of IHA, EC and HLC.

JNUSU has also questioned the introduction of Below Poverty Line (BPL) category in the University. It argues that the meeting fails to explain how the BPL is being made applicable to the students of the University. No clarity has been even provided in the amended IHA or the minutes of the EC on how this categorization will take place.

Therefore, the Petitioners have submitted that the amended hostel manual violates the provisions of the JNU Act, 1966. By citing it as illegal, Petitioners have also asked for setting aside of the Minutes of IHA's meeting, and directions for a new meeting to be reconvened.

Appearing for the University, ASG Pinky Anand submitted that the decision to revise the fee is done in pursuance of the communications received from the University Grants Commission.

She quoted a circular which was issued by the UGC to all the central universities wherein it was mentioned that all the universities have to reduce their expenditure on outsourced staff.

She also informed the court that the University has already waived off service and utility charges earlier paid by the students. The same will now be borne by the UGC.

In light of the same, the University revised the fee in order to provide for the salaries of more than 400 persons who are hired on a contractual basis, Ms Anand argued.

On that point, Justice Shakdher opined that:

'In Public Universities, the burden of paying the salaries to contractual workers can't be put on students. It's the responsibility of the government to find money for funding the same.'

While engaging with the counsels from both sides, Justice Shakdher remarked that the solution to the present issue ideally shall come from a dialogue. He said:

'When the dialogue is on, what is the urgency. Why are you (JNU) escalating it? Why weren't the students asked to participate in the meetings? Listen to them, you're still in the majority, you can overrule their decision. You simply can't say that you won't engage. You have to keep the past aside, and proceed with the conversations.'

The matter will next be taken up on February 28

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