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Split worry for students

Rajeev Reddy watched stoically television images of Telangana residents voting on April 30, then turned around, looked towards the entrance of the engineering exam coaching institute he attends, and shook his head.

The 17-year-old Vijayawada Class XI student isn’t worried about the results of the last Lok Sabha and Assembly polls Andhra Pradesh will see before it is cleaved into two. He’s worried about his chances at admission in the colleges of his choice — chances the state’s division could dramatically reduce.

“Politicians will gain from the way the state is being divided without consideration for its consequences, but it is students like me who will have to face those consequences,” Reddy said, biting into a vada outside his coaching class in Vijayawada, 250km from Hyderabad.

The division that will be formal on June 2 is threatening to claim unwitting victims in students like Reddy from the coastal and Rayalaseema regions of the state who have grown up dreaming of studying in institutions that will now lie in Telangana.

Coastal Andhra is home to the wealthiest industrialists in the state, and Rayalaseema holds untapped mineral riches, but it is Telangana — otherwise the most underdeveloped part of the state — that is host to its top higher educational institutions.

Some of the most elite among these institutions — like the new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Medak, 45km from Hyderabad, the central University of Hyderabad, and the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad — don’t discriminate between students based on their state or where they went to school.

But key second-rung, high-quality institutions that most students aim to enter — like the central National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Warangal, and Osmania University and the Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad — have admission processes loaded against those not from their “home state”. The “home state” was till now Andhra Pradesh. On June 2, it will become Telangana.

In their Lok Sabha and Assembly campaigns here, both the Congress and the BJP have promised that they will, if voted to power, set up a new IIT, NIT, IIM, AIIMS and central universities in Seemandhra — as political parties are calling Andhra without Telangana. At least some of these — like the NIT — will directly help students from this region. But that will take years — the IIT in Medak started operating three years after it was promised in 2006, and is still functioning from a temporary campus.

“It will be too late for me, my seniors, my immediate juniors,” said J. Padma in Guntur, 300km from Hyderabad. The Class X student wants to study at Osmania University — the institution where her father and grandfather both studied. “What should I do?”

Many of the students The Telegraph spoke to in towns across Seemandhra said “operators” had cropped up promising them fake domicile certificates that would help them gain admission into institutions in Telangana. A domicile certificate establishes where the student went to high school — a marker of whether the candidate can be considered a “local” in college admissions.

Some among the students hinted they were considering taking up the offer, and though this newspaper could not independently verify their claim of individuals offering fake certificates, the panic among students was evident — and a portent of a scam in waiting.

The National Institutes of Technology admit students strictly through the Joint Entrance Examination (Mains) conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education. But while 50 per cent students are picked based on their national rankings, the remaining seats are kept exclusively for students from the state that hosts the NIT — based on their ranking among fellow students from the state.

Osmania University — the spiritual home of the Telangana movement — already admitted 85 per cent students only from districts that belong to Telangana. But the remaining 15 per cent seats were reserved for students from the remainder of the state — Andhra till now — while the university would each year add 5 per cent extra seats for students from other parts of the country and for those from abroad.

Now, unless the university changes its rules, students from towns like Vijayawada or Guntur will no longer be eligible for the 15 per cent seats they could aim for. They will be eligible instead only for the 5 per cent extra — or supernumerary, as they are officially called — seats. The Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences too was set up under a law that specifically allows it to reserve seats for students belonging to the state.

“There’s no way the first government of Telangana voted through the Assembly elections will change rules to help students from Seemandhra,” a senior official at the Andhra Pradesh State Council for Higher Education in Hyderabad said. “There’s a new state to be built, their neighbour will certainly not be their priority.”

A BJP-led government at the Centre would address these concerns, the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said as he addressed a crowd in Guntur on May 1. “There’s so much potential here in Seemandhra. I promise you we will not let it go waste,” Modi said, before outlining the plan for new apex central institutions like an IIT and IIM in Seemandhra.

The Congress-led UPA made that promise barely days after it declared its intention to carve out Telangana from Andhra. Union education minister M.M. Pallam Raju is the Congress MP — and a candidate for re-election — from Kakinada in Seemandhra.

But in a region that is convinced its interests have been betrayed by both the Congress and the BJP — both supported the creation of Telangana — election promises aren’t easy to sell.

“If either the Congress or the BJP cared about ordinary youths of Seemandhra, they would have created Telangana after taking into account our needs too,” said Koneru Sushma in Kurnool, 210km from Hyderabad. “Why should I believe them now?”

Telangana voted on April 30. Seemandhra votes on May 7