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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Saarc varsity students on warpath over stipend

Over 80 students to start an indefinite hunger strike from Sunday

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 06.11.22, 01:11 AM
The South Asian University

The South Asian University File picture

The South Asian University here has rusticated, expelled or suspended five students for misconduct without giving them a chance to defend themselves, prompting students who have been demanding an increase in stipends under the freeship scheme for around 24 days to intensify their agitation on Saturday..

Over 80 students sat on a daylong hunger strike to demand the revocation of “unilateral” action against the five students, an increase in stipend under the freeship scheme and representation in key bodies dealing with students’ issues.

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They will start an indefinite hunger strike from Sunday, the General Body of Students of the SAU announced.

The university administration maintained that the students had revised the demands that had been met and the new demands could not be addressed without the approval of the governing body.

The SAU, an international university established by

the member nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), offers PhD and Masters programmes.

In post-graduate courses, the institution provides scholarships on the basis of performance in entrance test and freeships on the basis of economic criteria to around 20 per cent of students. All PhD students either get Junior Research Fellowship or the SAU financial support.

About half of the students who are awarded freeships get waiver from hostel and tuition fees and a stipend of Rs 5,000 per month while the other half get only their hostel and tuition fees waived off. Those getting scholarships, get waiver from hostel and tuition fees and a stipend of Rs 7,000 a month.

The university recently issued a notification to reduce the stipend of students getting freeships from Rs 5000 to Rs 4,000, triggering protests. Following a discussion with students last month, the amount was restored to Rs 5,000.

However, the students demanded a stipend of around Rs 7,000 per month under the freeship scheme in addition to

  • Fee waiver for students whose family income per annum is less than Rs 5 lakh or equivalent;
  • Only fee waiver for those whose annual family income is between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 6 lakh or equivalent; and
  • Half fee waiver for those whose annual family income is between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 8 lakh or equivalent.

The university administration said it had agreed to increase the mess subsidy, which was around Rs 1,000 per student, but was unable to accommodate any more demands.

“Any further increase requires a policy revision, which should be approved by the governing body,” the university administration said in response to an email from The Telegraph.

As students launched their protests on October 13, the university authorities called police to the campus.

On Friday, the SAU rusticated two students for one year, suspended one student for a semester and expelled two students.

“In the SAU bye-laws, there is no provision for unilateral action. The university should have given the students the opportunity to defend. No show-cause notice was issued. This is arbitrary action by the university. This must be revoked immediately,” said Keshav Sawarn, a student of MA sociology.

The administration, however, defended its actions.

“Since October 13, 2022 students were persistently involved in acts of indiscipline inconsistently with the relevant provisions of SAU Rules/Regulations/Bye-laws. They have gone through various kinds of misconducts, including gherao, manhandling of the president, making president captive in his office, occupying the space in front of the president’s and vice-president’s offices and making them dysfunctional, playing loud music continuously since November 1, 2022 and creating unpleasant noises, denying the notice of the proctor to vacate the occupied space and shift to the designated place for peaceful protest,” the administration said in a statement.

“Based on the aforesaid facts and evidences recorded in the camera, the president exercised his power under aforesaid Rule 29 to approve the expulsion, rustication and suspension orders, which were thereafter issued by the proctor,” it added.

The students have demanded representation with equal rights in forums like university complaint committee (UCC), grievance redress committee and the gender-sensitive cell. Currently, students are invited as observer member in the UCC and grievance cell. Faculty members constitute these panels.

“In cases of sexual or mental harassment, the student representative is unable to defend the students because of being a mere observer in UCC or the grievance committee. We are demanding full-fledged membership for students so that we can defend ourselves,” Sawarn said.

The university said the existing committee had been set up in keeping with the byelaws.

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