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THE ghost of a seven-storey building stands along the Western Express Highway right outside the Kalina campus of the University of Mumbai. Constructed almost three years ago, the building, the proposed cultural centre of the university, bears a desolate look as it awaits an inauguration. According to Registrar M A Khan, the building is still to get an occupation certificate. Meanwhile, the culture department of the university, along with the department of student welfare, functions from an office in Churchgate, a good 27 km from the main Kalina campus.
While students on the Kalina campus and suburban colleges find it difficult to access the centre located at one end of the city, other students rue a lack of coordination between the centre and the colleges.
The university holds an annual youth festival in August on the Kalina campus, an event that sees mass participation from students. It is compulsory for all colleges to participate. “The Youth Festival is big. Students vie for a winning position at the festival as it is considered the most prestigious,” said a third-year Commerce student who was the cultural secretary of a city college last year. “However, the way these events are conducted is a mess. There is a complete lack of coordination between the university and the colleges,” she said, refusing to be identified.
The Youth Festival gives students a platform to showcase their talents in fine arts as well as performing arts. However, the varsity only focuses on traditional art forms and the festival does not include contemporary art forms such as ballet, jazz or beatboxing. “Only classical and folk art forms are allowed. While this is a great way of promoting our culture, the university should also provide a platform to students with an eye for contemporary arts,” said the cultural secretary.
Winners have a different complaint. While winners of annual cultural and sport competitions are awarded medals and certificates, there are no special scholarships for students who excel in extracurricular activities or sports, unlike universities such as Delhi University.
One theatre enthusiast who won an award at the Youth Festival last year said the varsity provide artistes with internships or certificate courses at reputed performing arts institutes. “The university has produced several alumni who are now eminent theatre, film and music personalities. However, this has not been of any advantage to students,” said the student.
The Academy of Theatre Arts and Dramatics Arts is a revered self-funded institute of the university offering MA courses in acting, directing, set designing, etc. Students of the academy stage three major productions annually, all performed on the Kalina campus. This is apart from the annual Vasant Natyaotsav.
In 2015, the Academy proposed to set up its own repertoire company for its graduates similar to that of the National School of Drama.
“Graduates can join the repertory and work on various productions that can be staged across the country. They can gain some professional experience working there,” said Mangesh Bansod, director of the Academy. However, a year and a half on, the proposal has not been tabled in the academic or management council of the university. “We have estimated a budget of Rs 1 crore to set up the repertory,” said Bansod.
In the budget for the academic year 2016-17, a provision of Rs1 lakh for prize distribution was marked. This year will mark the 50th anniversary for the Youth Festival and the varsity has set aside Rs 50 lakh for the event.
However, the university has stopped making budgetary provisions for activities at the Kalina Sports Complex. “A couple of years ago a decent amount was allocated for sports events at the sports complex. However, now that has stopped,” said Manoj Tekade from Prahar, a student organisation of the university.
The university had set aside a budget of Rs 2 lakh for the development of the sports complex at Kalina Campus for the year 2016-17, however until December 2016, none of it was utilised. This year the provision is reduced to Rs 1 lakh.
Last year, a national-level shooter Shreya Gawande, a student of the university, made it to the World University Championship in Poland. However, since the university did not have a provision to pay for Gawande’s trip, she had to submit around Rs 1.5 lakh to the All India University for her tour from her pocket. “Students from several universities in the country participated in the tournament. In their cases the university paid for their expenses,” said Gawande, who participated in the sports pistol and air pistol competitions for women.
“Nine months since the episode, the university still doesn’t have a policy to sponsor students for international-level tournaments,” she said.
However, such issues are hardly raised by the largely-dormant student bodies. The reason: the absence of student elections from the campus for over two decades. Though the state government is planning to bring back the elections soon, the absence of elections has left the student organisations dormant and detached from the real issues of students.
As there are no elssssections, the student secretaries are usually nominated by colleges. “The colleges usually nominate candidates that are complacent with the management. There is no representation of students to the varsity or the colleges,” said a former student of MU who is now pursuing a post-graduation at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. “The culture is very different at JNU. There is a lot of debate among the students, which keeps the culture vibrant on campus,” he said.
“The university lacks a debate culture. Unlike other universities in the country, the students here are detached from the socio-political developments around them,” said Sanjay Vairal, a former member of the university senate. Vairal said the abolition of elections had hurt chances of political leaders emerging from campuses.
The state government had discontinued the student elections in 1994. Elections were banned following the murder of an NSUI candidate. Owen D’souza, the district president of NSUI, was stabbed 64 times by unidentified assailants in the Jitendra Chouhan College of Law inside Mithibai College on October 5, 1989. An FIR was filed against the then ABVP leader Parag Alavani, who is a BJP MLA now. “The culture on campuses today is not similar to the gang-war culture of the 90s. With proper measures in place, there is nothing to worry about,” said Alavani, who was later acquitted in the case.
With student elections making a comeback, student organisations are busy preparing and campaigning. The trouble in the Exam House is on top of the agenda of almost all organisations such as Maharashtra Navnirman Vidhyarthi Sena, Yuva Sena as well as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
Santosh Gangurde, vice-president of the student wing of MNVS, said the lack of sports infrastructure, too, is a priority for the party ahead of the elections.
However, Vairal feared that the organisations were too far removed from the real problems of the students to be able to represent them in the elections.