Having been peacefully protesting the reinstatement of their Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof. (Dr) Sukhpal Singh since September 25, the students of Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur have now decided to go on a hunger strike from 8 am, Monday, October 1.
However, instead of resuming dialogue in response to the declaration, Dr. Singh has appealed to the students to call off the protest immediately and attend classes from Monday, October 1, or face consequences, which may include closure of the University sine die “to restore the normalcy in the University”.
The ultimatum issued by Dr. Singh says, “The unfortunate part of this protest is that this protest does not seem to be a peaceful protest of the students only, but it is going into the hands of the outsiders which will ultimately cause irreparable damage to the hard earned image of the university thereby causing loss of good career prospects of those who do not voluntarily want to be part of this protest. A handful of persons cannot be allowed to play with the academic career and placement prospects of the majority of students…
…If the students do not call off the protest by the said date and time, the university shall be compelled to take appropriate course of action including closure of University sine die to restore normalcy in the University.”
It may be recalled here that the Chhattisgarh High Court had, on 27 August, in Dr. Avinash Samal v. State of Chhattisgarh, quashed the extension of Dr. Singh’s tenure. Scores of students had then camped overnight on campus in the open from 10:30 pm the same day, demanding that the judgment be “respected” and that Dr. Singh should not be allowed to continue as the VC.
It was only on the 3rd day of the protest that the Chancellor of the University appointed Mr. Ravi Shankar Sharma, the Principal Secretary, Government of Chhattisgarh, via notification as the interim Vice-Chancellor of the University. Students rejoiced at the appointment and resumed discussions with the administration, placing a list of demands for enhanced transparency in administration of the college. Their joy was, however, short-lived.
You may read: Moral Policing, Arbitrary & Non-Transparent Administrative Actions: HNLU Students Continue Protest
Dr. Singh breathed a sigh of relief on September 20, with the Supreme Court staying the High Court order setting aside the order of extension of his tenure. He was reinstated as the VC soon after. Naturally, within the college premises, he now has fresh trouble brewing for him.
His reinstatement reignited the protests on campus, with more than 800 students having signed a letter of no-confidence against him, owing to his “style of arbitrary and discriminatory decision making”. The letter highlights several allegations of inter alia financial irregularity, inaction on allegations of sexual harassment, lack of transparency, arbitrary hiring and firing of faculty, and maladministration.
With their demands still being unfulfilled despite almost a week having passed since Dr. Singh’s reinstatement, the students have now decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike, with three major demands: removal of Dr. Singh as the VC, access to the Audit Report of the University, and institution of a review commission of the University as per the provisions of the HNLU Act.
“It is hard to stomach the fact that administration in a National Law University is the epitome of draconian exercise of unchecked power. It is harder to believe the same when a National Law University named after one of the prominent legal luminaries Hon’ble Justice M. Hidayatullah is plagued by the same problem.
The students of the University expected high standard of legal education and conscience from the administration. However, all that the student body received from Dr. Sukh Pal Singh’s administration was apathy and indifference on various problems,” a student told LiveLaw.
While the students had managed to schedule a meeting with the Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court, Justice Ajay Kumar Tripathi, who is the Chancellor of the University, the meeting did not have the desired results, in the absence of any relief or timeline. They have therefore decided to follow the “Gandhian principles of Satyagraha…in the hopes that the authorities will take immediate and effective actions keeping in mind the student welfare.