Scrap the draft 

A premier law school wants staffers to snitch on relatives who criticise government. What’s there to discuss?

By: Editorial | Updated: September 17, 2016 2:10 am

The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences is considering rather dubious proposals in its new draft service rules, which have been under discussion for a month. There is really nothing to discuss, since these rules are prima facie more appropriate to Stalin’s Russia or contemporary North Korea than to a democratic country. If they ever came into effect, staffers of the premier institute, which has the chief justice of India for its chancellor, would be required to be perfectly docile citizens schooled to regard any action against government as Orwellian Thoughtcrime. It is most unusual for an institute where constitutional law is taught to fail to understand that the right to protest is unalienable. Indeed, it is the check and balance of last resort in the democratic system.

The rules require staffers to prevent their relations from acting against the government and from indulging in “subversive” activities. If such prevention fails, they are to report the matter to the university authorities. In addition, staffers are required to reveal links with the media and seek prior sanction before going to the press.

The problematic rule states: “It shall be the duty of every employee to prevent any member of his family from taking part in, subscribing in aid of, or assisting in any other manner any movement or activity which is, or tends directly or indirectly to be, subversive of the Government.”

That sentence reads like teaching material, a perfect example of how legislation should not be framed. The phrasing of the “duty” is so loose, and the concepts involved so delightfully undefined, that an online “like” supporting activists who oppose government policy could form the ground for action.

It is not clear how the institution plans to move against errant relations of staffers, though, since it has no jurisdiction. The institution’s plea that the rules will not be imposed without discussion is altogether without merit, since proposals which interfere with constitutional safeguards should not have been considered at all.

Besides, an educational institution should not be regarded as an extension of government, to the extent that resistance and disagreement are regarded as treasonous. That smacks of communist regimes which are fortunately history, which were propped up on the strength of friends and relations of citizens who were taught to spy on them and denounce them at the government’s pleasure. Surely one of India’s leading law schools does not wish to go down that inglorious path?