A sit-in by Presidency students on Friday, demanding union elections. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
The state government has all but allowed universities and colleges to hold union elections following their own norms, reversing its stand of putting campus polls on hold for six months.
An advisory uploaded on the higher education department website on Friday night stated that in colleges where the term of the students’ union had expired or was about to expire, the authorities could “take recourse to the provisions of their existing statutes, rules and regulations relating to the conduct of election to the students’ unions, and adopt appropriate arrangements”.
“This in effect means that colleges where elections are due will be able to hold them,” said a higher education department official.
Registrars of universities received copies of the advisory on Friday evening. “We are studying the new advisory. Our statutes and rules advocate holding the union election at the earliest opportunity,” said the registrar of a university in the city.
On February 18, the higher education department had issued an advisory asking all colleges and universities to put on hold union elections to prevent “untoward incidents” and maintain “peace and tranquillity” in the season of board examinations.
On paper, the governing bodies of universities and colleges have the final say on whether to conduct elections or not but in practice, they have little leeway since the institutions are dependent on the government for grants and police deployment during elections.
The earlier advisory followed a spurt in campus violence over elections, which culminated in the murder of a Calcutta police sub-inspector outside Harimohan Ghosh College in Garden Reach on February 12. Higher education officials had said elections had been stopped to draw up a guideline for the process, incorporating recommendations of the J.M. Lyngdoh commission. The new advisory casts a shadow on the fate of the guideline that was reportedly being drafted.
The new advisory states that it was issued after receiving queries from colleges where the term of the union has expired or is about to expire but political considerations are likely to have played a much greater role.
“The bar on union elections had inconvenienced the Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad the most,” said a source in the higher education department.
According to him, the Trinamul student wing had won 380 of the 450 students’ union elections in the state in the past five months, many of them uncontested. About 150 more college elections are due and the Trinamul Chhatra Parishad expects to win most of them.
A senior Trinamul Chhatra Parishad leader said the students’ wing had been pressuring the education cell of the party to rollback the bar on campus elections.
Presidency University students did not allow three senior officials to enter the campus for four hours on Friday to pressure the authorities into holding union elections, defying the higher education department advisory on February 18.
The students, supporters of the anti-SFI Independents’ Consolidation, squatted near the main entrance of the college from 9.30am to 1.30pm to stop registrar Prabir Dasgupta, dean of students Deboshruti Roychowdhury, controller of examinations Debojyoti Konar and finance officer Prithul Chakrabarty from reaching their offices on campus. The three stood outside until Dasgupta, Konar and Chakrabarty were allowed in and Roychowdhury left.