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Revised hostel fee fails to quell protest, JNU says it will benefit poor students

The bulk of changes were reserved for students falling in the “BPL (below poverty line) category” — according to the JNU administration, they will have to pay 50% of the revised room rent, service charges and utility charges.

Written by Sukrita Baruah , Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: November 14, 2019 9:53:41 am
Revised hostel fee fails to quell protest, JNU says it will benefit poor students Students continued their protest against the fee structure outside the UGC office, Wednesday. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Following large-scale protests by students, the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration Wednesday reviewed the hostel fee structure.

The bulk of changes were reserved for students falling in the “BPL (below poverty line) category” — according to the JNU administration, they will have to pay 50% of the revised room rent, service charges and utility charges (see box). For everyone else, only the refundable security deposit has been reduced to Rs 5,500 per annum from the Rs 12,000 mentioned in the draft hostel manual.

What exactly constitutes this category and who falls under it remained unclear till late Wednesday, with the HRD Ministry saying JNU will provide the finer details, and the university Registrar saying they will go by the government definition.

Video | JNU Fee Hike Rollback: Meet The Students Who Will Benefit The Most

The previous BPL line fixed under the Tendulkar committee was Rs 1,000 per capita per month in urban areas. But most universities and schools now use the EWS (economically weaker sections) category to extend benefits. Even JNU had this year reserved 10% of its seats for those from the EWS category, with a family income of less than Rs 8 lakh per annum.

Asked about who will be covered under the BPL category, Registrar Pramod Kumar told The Indian Express: “We will consider those people BPL whom the government considers BPL.” He refused to provide more details. A senior HRD ministry official, on the other hand, said, “The university will soon elaborate on who all are covered in the said category.”

Asked if BPL had been a criteria for determining fee, either in his tenure or earlier, former V-C S K Sopory said, “No, not to my knowledge.”

Tipping point

On Monday, HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, who was a guest at the JNU’s convocation, was confined at the venue for around three hours as a protest by students erupted outside. A few student representatives later met him, and he promised to look into their concerns.

On Wednesday, an Executive Council (EC) meeting was held, where the decision on the fee hike was taken. The EC also decided to remove clauses that all students are supposed to return to their rooms by 11 pm. The clause asking students to “dress appropriately” in the mess will also be withdrawn.

JNU Vice-Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar told news agency ANI: “We have decided that for the general students, the hostel room rent is increased from Rs 10 to Rs 300 for a double seater. For students belonging to BPL category, they will have to pay only 50% of this charge.”

Just as the meeting ended, Education Secretary R Subrahmanyam, who was not part of it, tweeted about the change, though he used the term EWS instead of BPL.

“JNU Executive Committee announces major roll-back in the hostel fee and other stipulations. Also proposes a scheme for economic assistance to the EWS students. Time to get back to classes,” he tweeted.

But the JNU Students’ Union and the JNU Teachers’ Association said the changes were unsatisfactory.

The JNUTA referred to the changes as “purely cosmetic” and noted that the increase in monthly charges for most students will still remain at around Rs 3,000.

“This will be an exorbitant increase for several students even if they are not in the BPL category as many low income households are not counted in that category. Even for BPL category students, the increase in charges will be to the order of Rs 1,500 per month immediately — a burden which no BPL household can possibly bear,” read a statement by the association.

JNUSU vice-president Saket Moon said the Centre’s BPL limit will push a large number of economically weaker students out of the university.

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