The students’ protest against the University Grants Commission’s (UGC’s) decision to discontinue the non-National Eligibility Test (NET) Fellowship for research scholars escalated Friday, with police and paramilitary personnel cracking down on “Occupy UGC” movement.
A group of protesters was picked up early morning by ITBP and CRPF personnel from the UGC office premises and detained, while another group faced lathicharge at ITO later.
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A delegation of students met UGC officials in the evening, but were not satisfied with the response. The protesters decided to organise an indefinite gherao of the UGC office from Monday.
The UGC, meanwhile, decided to refer its decision to scrap the fellowship to an expert committee after the HRD ministry stepped in. According to ministry sources, the UGC justified scrapping of the fellowship on the grounds that there was little transparency and accountability in this scholarship programme.
The protesters have been asking for not just the reinstatement of the fellowship of Rs 5,000 and 8,000 per month, respectively for MPhil and PhD students, but also its increase.
“Last year, the UGC disbursed Rs 99.16 crore under the non-NET fellowship. This is a huge amount and it was spent without any transparency. On one hand, we expect students to qualify NET to get fellowship and on the other we have students who don’t need to take any test to get financial aid. The UGC felt this amounted to double standards and decided to discontinue the non-NET fellowship,” said a ministry source.
Nearly 100 students from various universities led by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) had camped on the UGC office premises since Wednesday. The protesters dug in their heels following the crackdown.
The protesters said they were “forcibly picked up” at about 6 am, put in buses and taken to Bhalswa Dairy police station, nearly 20 km away.
“We had just about lied down and gone to sleep at about 4.30 am when there was a sudden crackdown on us. We didn’t even know where we were being taken till we reached. Why did they have to take us 20 km away to the outskirts?” said AISA national president Sucheta De.
The protesters said Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists who had kept away from the protest showed up at at about 12.45 am and stayed put outside the UGC office. They were not touched by the paramilitary or police forces, the protesters alleged.
As news spread about protesters being detained, other students, primarily from JNU, decided to “reoccupy UGC” and staged a protest outside the premises and brought down barricades.
“We could not be part of their protest because they are blaming the Centre for the problem, whereas we believe Congressmen are behind it. To protest this, we laid down on roads and pelted stones,” said ABVP state secretary Saket Bahuguna.
Minutes into the protest by JNUSU at ITO, the lathicharge started. “There was absolutely no provocation from students. Several students were severely injured, but the police did not stop. We then decided to block roads at the ITO crossing, following which the UGC decided to meet a delegation of students,” said Pratim Ghosal of DSF.
De said, “After two hours of violence, the police put forth a condition before our fellow protesters, telling them to disperse if they wanted us (picked up from UGC office) to be released. They were forced to agree.”
SFI state secretary Sunand said, “We have called for an all-India ‘Black Day’ on Monday.”
A senior police official who did not want to be named said the students’ allegations of police brutality were not true.