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Summer of discontent

The fee hike by private institutions can become a political issue as agitating students find the Kejriwal government unresponsive to their cries for help

Arbitrary hikes in school and college fee can become a major election issue when the Delhi Assembly polls are held next year. The Aam Aadmi Party had promised students that there would be no fee hike in private institutions but no effective step has been taken in the case of private colleges. There was also a promise to start 500 educational institutions but it has not yet been fulfilled.

A State Fee Regulatory Committee was set up by the AAP government in February 2013 to determine fee to be charged for different courses in private institutions. One such institution is Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU), a state university established in 1998 by the Delhi Government. At present, 118 colleges are affiliated to IP university, which provided a wide variety of choices among both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Out of the total 118 colleges, 83 are self-financed institutes and 35 run by the government.

On April 24, students of IP University received notice from their respective colleges regarding payment of arrears after fee hike. Amount of arrears to be paid ranged from around Rs 50,000 to more than Rs 1 lakh in different colleges.

The notice mentioned that the extra fee amount had to be paid within a limited time period — if not, the university will hold their documents (character certificate, provisional degree, migration certificate) as collateral. The burden of payment lies on students who enrolled in the university in 2015 – including those who have graduated.

This is not the first time the university announced a fee hike. In 2016, there was a hike of about 24% in the fee structure on the recommendations of the State Fee Regulatory Committee. Students were asked to pay for past years as well from batches 2013 onwards.

This led to agitations by students and parents who became liable to pay huge amounts for previous years as well, asking for the fee hike to be rolled back. Protestors marched from Civil Lines to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence. He supported them and asked colleges to roll back the hiked fee. He tweeted, “My dear students, pl don’t worry. I hv asked Edu dept to roll it back. Study well. Best wishes 4 ur exams (2/2).” Kejriwal also said that the fee won’t be hiked in future and that he will prevent it.

After almost three years, students are again ready to protests against the decisions of self- financed institutions and private institutes. A former student of Maharaja Surajmal Institute of Technology from 2015-18 batch — Karan Rohela — took the initiative to highlight the distress caused by the hike.

Karan Rohela told Patriot he started the protest by drafting an online form which was filled by 1,500 students in a single day. He also hired a lawyer for the case. Supporters contributed up to Rs 14,000 via crowdfunding. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in court for the students who are currently a part of these colleges to get their documents back. However, no such order was passed even after four hearings.

Meanwhile, many students were even debarred from their colleges as no admit cards were issued to them. They ended up going on dharna at Jantar Mantar on June 2. About 200 students took part in the protest, shouting slogans like ‘We Want Justice’ and ‘Degree for Sale’. When the students were not able to reach the CM through his cabinet ministers, they protested in front of Kejriwal’s residence.

“We took an appointment to meet Kejriwal Sir but after waiting for eight hours we decided to protest. We belong to middle class families and cannot afford to pay such huge amounts when sent sudden notices. It is the failure of the government and the court that they did not look out for the interests of students,” adds Rohela. Kejriwal has told the students that he was not aware about the situation and that action will be taken.

Students believe that it is a black mark on the Delhi Government that it did not take suitable action. In February, many students tried to reach Kejriwal from institutions where the notice was issued but got no response. The students are still trying to reach out to the government as it is their only hope.

Students now compare what they see as Kejriwal’s indifference to his decisive measures when checking the arbitrary hike in fee by private schools. Last year, about 195 private schools in Delhi announced an arbitrary fee hike, from which parents asked for relief. In 2018, the AAP government had clarified that schools will have to take prior permission before increasing their fee and after an audit of schools’ account. Around 2.03 lakh students were benefitted by the rollback by 128 schools. Education Minister Manish Sisodia also took forward the call for rolling back the hiked fee.

Last year, the Delhi Government also issued a circular saying that private unaided schools built on government land cannot hike fee without permission from the Directorate of Education (DoE). The recent HC order where a single judge bench allowed these schools to hike their fee was challenged by Kejriwal government. The Delhi High Court on seeing a major fee hike gave an interim order restraining private schools from increasing fees. It later extended its order till May 9.

Students and parents believe that there is an immense need for proper action to be taken in order to safeguard the education system in Delhi. The government should look into ways of preventing education from becoming big business.