Gujarat bill seeks to control education, curtail democratic rights, restrict freedom of expression

gujBy Rimmi Vaghela*

The Gujarat state assembly passed Gujarat State Higher Education Council Bill, 2016 on 31st March. This Bill has been passed without any debate or discussion in the absence of Opposition. Of course, strong voice of dissent is being raised in the entire state against provisions of this Bill. Education is the base of progress for all society. So, education system needs concern, sensitivity and participation of all education loving people.

The Gujarat Higher Education Council has been formed under the recommendations of the Universities Grants  Commission (UGC) and the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA). There are eight other states in our country in which such council has been formed. These are Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra. But in none of these states, the council has the Chief Minister as its head. Gujarat is the only exceptional state where the Chief Minister of the state will be the president of the council, which will be made under this Bill. In other states, the Education Minister will be the chief of the council. The Andhra Pradesh is the only state where educationists and intellectuals are the members of the council instead of ministers. In Gujarat we have already such kind of body under the name of Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat (KCG). The question arises what is the need to form such council.

Let us have a look at the provisions of the Bill and its possible effects.

  1. It is said in the beginning of this Bill that state higher education council would be a supreme body for higher education and shall be responsible for planned and coordinate development of higher education in the state and for advising the state government in matters relating to higher education, and would oversee its development with perspective planning and monitoring. (Page 1) In Gujarati version of the Bill, they use the word ‘control’. This council will monitor and control all the educational institutes of the state.

Effect: All the educational institutes will directly come under the control of the state government.  Our universities and colleges should be the vibrant centres of free debates, discussions and knowledge. Instead of that they will become places of government agenda and advertisement of its political campaign. Even without implementation of such Bill, we can see poor condition of our government educational institutes. After implementation of this Bill, we will never find any voice of dissent in our colleges and universities.

  1. The council shall be a body corporate by the name aforesaid having perpetual succession and a common seal and shall be entitled to acquire, hold and dispose of property, to enter into contracts and to do all other things necessary for the purpose of this Act and shall by its name sue and be sued. (page 3)

Effect: It will have direct effect on the vacant land of universities and colleges. Although grounds of universities and colleges are never for the use of their students,  they are given on rent for different purposes. Now such provision will allow this council to put to use its properties of educational institutes.

  1. The Chief Minister of the state will be the President of the council. The Education Minister will be the Vice President. Other than this, there will be secretaries and commissioners of the different departments, which will be there in the council. Moreover, it will have maximum of five vice chancellors from universities of the state, one representative from private universities, one eminent scholar from the institutes of national importance situated in the Gujarat, not more than five eminent persons from the fields of Arts, Science, Commerce, Law, Engineering, Management, Medicine, Journalism, Films and Television, Theatre, Sports, Public administrations, Finance etc,, and three academicians from amongst university teachers, senior principals or affiliated college teachers who have completed more than 15 years of service. They will be appointed by the state government.

Effect: In short all the members of council will be appointed directly by the state government. It is clear that all those appointed will be “yes men” of the government. In addition, the chief minister will be the President of the council. In such a situation if someone has any differences with the council, it is not clear whom to approach. Not a single person of this council will be elected.

  1. On the recommendation of the Council, or suo-moto, the State Government may direct, any University with such modification, as may be necessary, to implement the reforms in such manner as may be specified therein. Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, it shall be obligatory on the part of the university to implement the directions given by the state government and to report the action taken to the State Government and the Council accordingly. The council shall review from time to time the compliance by the Universities, of the direction given by the State Government. (Page 16)

Effect: All the powers have been given to this council, so whatever little chances one has to raise one’s voice through senate, syndicate, academic council, vice chancellors etc. will be curtailed. Not only that, the role of the governor of the state will be zero. It will affect the universities’ democratic atmosphere of free debates and discussions and the state government will be the dictator, and all the universities will have to surrender to the dictatorship of the state government.

  1. No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings can be held against the council or any member or officer or employee of the council for anything which is done or intended to be done in good faith or action taken in pursuance of this act or any rules or regulations made there under. (Page20)

Effect: This provision of the Bill is totally unconstitutional. It has clear message that no one can speak against the authorities. Moreover it shows that the council will be above the judiciary system of our country.

  1. The President, Vice President, members, officers and staff of the Council, the Chairperson of the Executive Committee and members thereof shall be deemed, when acting or purporting to act in pursuance of any of the provisions of this Act or any rules or regulations made thereunder shall be deemed to be public servants within the meaning of section 21 of the Indian Penal Code.( Page 21)

Effect: There is a possibility by this provision that all teaching and non-teaching staff will come under the authority of tje council and will be counted as public servant. It  means that not only for International Yoga Day but all the lecturers and professors will have to engage themselves in government programmes like polio, swachchata abhiyan etc. It will not be limited up to election duties.

  1. To decide criteria and make recommendations to the state government for necessary funding to the universities (page 7)

Effect: Educational institutes will not speak a single word against state government, and if they do, their grant will be curtailed.

  1. To make recommendations for planned and coordinate development of curriculum and courses, to prepare global level experts in various disciplines in higher education in consultation with the universities. (page 7)

Effect: Whichever party comes to rule, it will propagate or include their election agenda in university syllabus. So far, the governor of Gujarat has not signed the Bill.  Yet, it has been announced that the state government will give the topics of PhD research to students and students will have to do research on government programmes like Gareeb Mela, Swachchata Abhiyaan, etc. It clearly reflects the mindset of the state government. It wants to destroy the root of research and to convert all universities in tools of political agendas.

  1. To formulate principles in accordance with the guidelines of the State Government for approval and sanction of new educational institutes.(page 9)

Effect: The government will allow its near and dear ones to open new educational institutes which will lead to privatisation of education. And those who are disliked by the government, they will be punished.

  1. To develop programmes for effective academic cooperation and interaction between the faculties in the universities and colleges, and also facilitate mobility of teachers and students in and outside the state. (Page 10)

Effect: The word ‘facilitate mobility’ is deceptive. It seeks to threaten professors and lecturers. It means if someone speaks against the authorities, he/she will  be posted anywhere in the name of mobility.

  1. To administer and release research funds, if any, received from the national and international funding agencies.(page 10)

Effect: Educational institutes will be pressurised in the name of fund. The council will have  all power on financial matters of universities. If universities want fund, they will have to surrender to the state government. The recent declaration of list for PhD research on government programme has proved this. Universities and colleges will not be given fund for activities which the state government feels are against its political agenda.

  1. To suggest criteria or rules for regarding recruitment and various promotions for teachers, officers principals and other employees. (Page 12)

Effect: The meaning of this provision is that there is no need to have educational qualification for promotion or recruitment. One must be a yes man  of the government. That will be the only qualifications. We have the example in MS University, Vadodara of such ‘yesmanship’. Already our education system is suffering due to unqualified persons. Such provision of this Bill will give legality to disqualification.

***

These are some technical issues which can’t be tolerated in a democratic set up. But we should also consider the hidden agenda behind the Bill. We will have to fight it ideologically also. Great men of renaissance, our freedom fighters and all progressive personalities of the entire world have strived for the dream of democratic, scientific and secular education. The meaning of ‘university’ itself is ‘inclusion of knowledge of entire universe’, nothing less than that. The responsibility of the government in the field of education should be restricted to financial obligation.

The government must not interfere in administration, syllabus, and other matters of education. But what we find here is just the opposite. The government — whether of Gujarat or of India — is shirking from its financial responsibility of providing education to all, and interfering in all matters of education. In fact, the matter is not restricted to the interference. This inference has reached the level of control. And it is clear that control over educational institutes by the government means curtailment of democratic rights and restriction over free voice in campuses as well as in society. The hidden agenda behind this Bill is to restrict the thought process, to create regimentation of thought among those associated with educational field.

Another purpose of this Bill is to suppress the voice of dissent. When the government takes control over educational institutes, the democratic spirit will be the ultimate victim. And this Bill not only curtails the democratic values of education but seeks to legalise and authorise such curtailment.

*Secretary, All-India Democratic Students’ Organisation, Gujarat State 

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