After facing criticism by a section of teachers for its alleged decision to implement the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) in Delhi University, the Human Resource Development Ministry Saturday took a U-turn and said it would not go ahead with the move.
The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and all independent teacher organisations had opposed bringing DUTA under the ambit of ESMA. For this, the UGC, in a notification dated October 4, had said it set up a seven-member working group to “study the Delhi University Act with the perspective of relevance and uniformity in today’s context including bringing exam/teaching/learning/evaluation under the Act of ESMA”.
The committee was to submit its report within 30 days, but DUTA claimed it was a “part of a design to stifle criticism and protest against government policy to commercialise, privatise higher education and to downgrade the teaching profession”.
As per ESMA clauses, one can be arrested “for instigation” even “without warrant”, and that such an act “…shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or both.”. It provides even harsher punishment for giving financial aid for any movement or protest.
However, on Saturday, R Subrahmanyam, HRD ministry secretary tweeted: “There is no such proposal to bring Delhi University under ESMA. The suggestion to ban strikes in the examination services came from some affected students during the DUTA strike. We have examined it and are not going ahead with the suggestion.”
Later, he put out another tweet saying: “In view of the above decision, and in accordance with the direction of HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, the working group constituted by UGC (as per MHRD letter), is being disbanded. Government has no intention or plans to curb the Freedom of Speech.”
HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar also tweeted on the matter: “We have neither put any restrictions nor intend to put any restrictions on Freedom of Speech in JNU, Delhi University or any other university.” He also sent an e-mail response to DU Executive Council A K Bhagi, who had written to Javadekar against the constitution of the working group, and said: “I have ordered winding up of this group”.
DUTA president Rajib Ray said the decision was a “success of our collective voice”, but that the UGC letter should be “formally withdrawn”.