Stalemate over Fee Hike continues in JNU even as officially normalcy returned to varsity after violent attacks on students, teachers, properties by yet to be identified masked rioters on Jan 5

In a botched up financial reform, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) administration, has not only sullied its own competence but virtually brought country’s top university to the brink of a possible shutdown. The mid-session fee hike on October 28, 2019 approved without participation of students’ representation (JNUSU) at the Inter Hall Administration (HAL) meeting is turning to be one of the biggest headaches for the government as the vociferous and large-scale student protests have crippled the academic business at JNU since.

During the HAL October 28 meeting, hostel rent of a single-seater room was hiked from Rs 20 to Rs 600 and that of a double-seater to Rs 300. Along with this hike, a hostel draft manual was also introduced for first time, and so were service charges and mess security fee.  The one-time mess security fee, which is refundable, was hiked from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000. Service charges for maintenance, mess workers, cook and sanitation and utility charges for power and water consumption were introduced for the first time at Rs 1700. University administration’s logic behind the hike has been to tide over a deficit of Rs 45 Cr and run the hostels on no-profit no-loss basis.  

As these decisions were taken without taking student body into confidence and in its absence JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) not only rejected the hike but launched massive protests, which only became intense over weeks. In a few cases, police had to resort to lathi charge to disperse agitating students.

The administration using  Executive Council tried to douse the fire and EC decided that all the students belonging to below poverty line (BPL) category, excluding those who have JRF, SRF and other equivalent fellowships/Scholarships either from outside organizations or JNU, are eligible to be given 50% of concession in the hostel charges. All BPL category students receiving Non-NET fellowship and MCM scholarships will also be eligible for this 50% concession. It was also decided that the one time (refundable) mess security deposit for all categories of students had also been rolled back from ₹12,000 to ₹5,500. Also, utility charges and service charges would be charged as per actuals and BPL students would get a 50% concession.

However, this did little to pacify agitating students and crisis refused to be blown over. Consequent to continuing student agitation and disruption in academics, the ministry of HRD in order to resolve the issue, constituted a 3-member committee comprising former UGC chairperson V S Chauhan, AICTE chairperson Anil Sahasrabudhe and UGC secretary Rajnish Jain as members to resolve the crisis.   

The committee met the stakeholders on Dec 10 & 11 and based on its recommendations, JNU has issued a statement that the students are not being asked to bear the cost of service and utility charges proposed for the winter session which was their basic demand. “As agreed in the meeting of 10th and 11th December 2019, the revised hostel room charges, however, will remain applicable with 50% concession for BPL students.”

“The students are not being asked to bear the cost of service and utility charges proposed for the winter session, which was their basic demand. Therefore, the JNU fee hike issue stands resolved and continuation of agitation by the students is no longer justified,” the HRD ministry statement quoted Nishank as saying. However, JNUSU is not convinced, “The JNU admin has stated that utility & service charges are not being charged during the current registration for 2020 winter semester. Such wording makes it seem that these charges will be added later in the semester or in the next semester, rather than being revoked. Our unequivocal demand has always been a complete rollback of the hostel manual which was passed in an illegal IHA meeting, where student representatives were not called, in violation of JNU statutes.” The union is also demanding sacking of VC, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar. Meanwhile the registration for the semester which was delayed, disrupted and extended has picked up with 72% of the 8500 students  at JNU registering according to official sources.

At the same time, teachers have expressed fears over safety after a yet to be identified masked group attacked university campus on January 5 evening and injured several students including JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh  and Prof Suchita Sen besides damaging hostel property and other things. The attack is under police investigation after a nationwide outrage over security breach and police inaction.