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No place at the table

For 20 years, students have been denied representation on the Academic Council of Delhi University. But if murmurs become a shout and legal action succeeds, things might change in the near future

The student body of Delhi University often finds itself organising protests and dharnas. This is often a last resort when pleas are ignored, a result of being denied the rights defined by statutes. A glaring case is that of not finding representation in the Academic Council.

As per Statute 7(1) of Delhi University Act of 1922, an Academic Council is to be constituted which would consist of members of administration and faculty plus five university students. Alongside the Vice-Chancellor, Pro Vice Chancellor, Deans of faculty, librarian and campus directors, the council was to have two post-graduate students, two undergraduate students and one research student.

As it stands, however, there have been no student representatives elected to the Academic Council in the last 20 years. Advocate Mohit Kumar Gupta, has spoken on the issue, filed an RTI, and continues to follow this issue through Court. He has been coordinating with the Joint Registrar (Legal), as well as members of the previous and current Academic Councils.

“What Academic Council?” asks Aastha, 19. She’s studying sociology at DU’s North Campus. She seems surprised to find that there is a statute detailing it in the first placeHowever, after finding out that the students’ slots have been woefully empty for the past 20 years, she says, “I’m not sure what I’ll do about it, now that I know, if anything at all,” she confesses.

No committee had been convened to decide upon the issue of there being no student representation in the Academic Council, and the situation has remained unchanged for many years. “The university’s conduct is discouraging and a show of non-representative status of student stakeholders despite legislative mandate. Political leaders must fight for getting statutory access in academic meetings and restrain from undue protests,” says Gupta.

Patriot spoke to Rajesh Mehta, a member of the current Academic Council and General Secretary of the Delhi University and Colleges Laboratory Staff Association (DUCLSA). He seems to back the desire of students for their rightful place on the table, but also blames the Delhi University Students Union. “Of course, there should be student representation in the Council,” he says. “It is certainly a matter of concern that the authorities never enforced it and the students never asked for it. I feel that this extended inaction also speaks to the quality of leadership in the Delhi University Students Union and the Delhi University Teachers Association. They have not done enough to rectify the situation.”

He also says that the students don’t feel an incentive to work hard for a position they may never get, because they spend only a couple of years at the university. They do not want to invest that kind of time in something that may not yield results.

A former DUSU president says that since no one woke up to the situation for so many years, it is but obvious that the issue would be brushed under the carpet. “There wouldn’t be a requirement for a Students Union if there was a functional representation within the Academic Council. It’s easy to blame students and say that we didn’t ask for representation. But if for years, the option isn’t even available, then it only makes sense to find alternatives.”

When asked whether or not Singh wants to be or would consider applying for a position on the Academic Council, he says simply, “If there was a position, I’d probably apply for it. But there isn’t one in practice. I’m certain that people will want to apply if it is actually enforced as a rule,” he explains.

Aakash, 24, an ex-student of Delhi University and former member of the Debating Society, says that he had read somewhere about it while he was in college, but didn’t think this was an anomaly that could be rectified. “The fact that the students have been in the dark about a provision like this for so long, I think has taken away the appeal from a position like that,” he muses. “If we knew about it and it was part of our conversations, there would certainly be an aspiration for it. But most people don’t even know,” he says.

It has been two years now since this issue came into the spotlight. A law student had put in a request to contest the student elections to the Academic Council, but was told by the Registrar’s Office that all required elections had been held and positions filled. All except the seats for the students. The petition was filed then, and as mentioned earlier, is pending adjudication till date.

When the writ petition was first filed in 2017, the Delhi High Court held that “even if the petitioner does not remain a student of the university, there appears to be a larger issue behind it. Why have you not held the elections? We will look into this.” And that was the last that was said on the matter.

The fallout of this under-representation takes the shape of dharnas and politics, as students do not have a legitimised platform to air their concerns. The Deputy Registrar got a slap on the wrist for ignoring the RTIs filed on the issue, and not responding on time.

Current president of DUTA Rajib Ray seems slightly more aware than the rest. He reveals in 2008 or 2009, he doesn’t recall exactly, he was part of a sub-committee that he had founded, which looked into the under representation of students in the Academic Council. It was a committee he had been trying form since 2006, but even after it’s inception, not much changed. Since these reports take at least two years to be processed, the issue fizzled out. It has remained at the stage of a white paper document and not moved any further. In fact the sub committee was in agreement that the number of students in the Academic Council should be increased.

When asked about why the students haven’t made more of a noise about it before, he says that it’s because the process is not entirely democratic. The statute states that only the toppers from the streams can contest for the elections, and not the rest. Which is why the motivation for a spot at the table is not as appealing to the entire student body.

Advocate Shashi stresses that once the amendment to the statute is carried out, measures need to be taken to make the fact known. She suggests publishing the information on the official magazine or releasing draft notices for students. “In any case,” she says, “The election of student members is an indispensable facet of youth and academic development.”

The length of time for which this issue has been ignored is suggestive of a desperate attempt to maintain a certain status quo or power relationship. Neglecting it to the extent of having it almost removed from conversation seems either calculated or extremely slack administration. Both scenarios are equally worrying.