'A ban on student politics is legally sustainable'

'A ban on student politics is legally sustainable'

T S R Subramanian, who headed a committee set up to suggest a framework for evolution of a new education policy, says education must be de-linked from politics if quality in teaching-learning outcomes has to be improved. “Our recommendation for placing restrictions on students groups formed on the basis of caste, religion or political parties is legally maintainable under the provisions of the Constitution,” the former cabinet secretary, who spearhead a legal battle in the Supreme Court for insulating bureaucracy from political interference few years ago, tells Prakash Kumar of Deccan Herald. Excerpts:

What is the thrust of your committee’s recommendations?

Our education system is in disarray today with a striking plunge in its quality because of the absence of a clear workable roadmap and continuing operational guidance in our previous policies. We have made more than 90 recommendations to address the challenges that our education system is facing today.

Your report underscores politics as one of main factors for the decline in quality of education and suggests a ban on students politics. Why?
The purpose of the university is not to produce ‘demagogue’ but to give education and degrees. It would have been fine if we had set up universities with primary purpose to produce ‘netas’. Contrary to this, all universities are described as temples of learning in their preambles.

Article 19 of the Constitution speaks about freedom of association and freedom of speech. But it also provides for putting reasonable restrictions on such freedoms to maintain public order and decency.  Every right has a corresponding restriction and corresponding duty. It is not that 5% of you have right to agitate and sit on hunger strike while rest of the 95% do not have any right.

Is it a lesson learnt from recent protests at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Hyderabad?
We suggested for it because we have our own experiences in the last 30 years. The JNU or University of Hyderabad was not there in our mind. I lost one and a half years while I was pursuing a Masters degree from the Calcutta University in 1957 due to some agitations by Left parties in West Bengal and Bihar.

The Jadhavpur University has always witnessed such distractions. It’s happening all over the country. You (critics) say (CPM leader Sitaram) Yechury and some others came from there (JNU). So what if they are? In the last 70 years have they made India a number one country in the world? 

Critics say why should India become an exception while students’ politics is recognised across democracies?

We are only saying, “think about it.” We are asking you to examine if you are doing right things with your students? Hold a nationwide debate. Many tell me about America because I know there is enough difference between the US and India. You say gravity is same in America but then moon is not so. If just one class is disrupted in the US today, there will be no rights from tomorrow.

Is it legally maintainable to ban students’ politics?
 Yes, it is. We have taken a legal opinion from an ex-additional solicitor general. I would not like to share his name. He has told us that imposition of a reasonable restriction will be valid on the functioning of students groups affiliated to political parties or those formed on the basis of caste or community in campuses. The state can make such a law because disruption of examinations and academic activity would be construed as public disorder.

Your report talks about politics plaguing the school education too but doesn’t make any suggestion for it? 

We have suggested measures to address the fundamental issues which would take care of half of the problems there. We have suggested for change in the curriculum, reforms in pedagogy and examinations.
We have also suggested for giving right orientation to teachers and creating a system of reward and punishment for their performance. We are saying stop deploying teachers in non-teaching works like election duty. The government can work out appropriate measures to deal with the problem.

The report has put special emphasis on value education. The RSS and its affiliates have also always been for it.
There are some ground realities. There is a great desire (among Indians) for an American way of life. It’s happening because Indian families are breaking today. Earlier, grandparents in joint families used to inculcate values among the children. Now, things have changed. People are moving from villages to cities. Women are working.
We have suggested for creating an adequate mechanism within education system to inculcate values, not only among children but adults too. We have asked for inculcation of values like discipline, punctuality, hard work, respect for elders and the ‘guru’ (teacher). How can this be linked to RSS? These are all human values which is not available anywhere else.

The committee has suggested welfare of students belonging to the economically weaker sections of the society, but not a word about Dalits and scheduled castes.
Irrespective of caste, community and religion, there are a large number of students who cannot afford to study. Many of the children are first generation students as their parents are uneducated. We find that there is no compassion in the system to reach out to these groups and give an extra cushion to them so they can also grow and see dreams of a bright future.

It is for this reason that we have suggested the merit scholarship scheme for EWS students and said that at least 10 lakh fellowships must be awarded each year. It is for this reason that we have also suggested enforcement of 25% EWS quota in admissions at schools run by the minority institutions though the Supreme Court has exempted them.

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