The movement to conduct student elections in the state after 25 years seems to have fizzled out, with the state now under President’s Rule. However, not conducting the elections within the next two months would be a violation of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016.
Section 99B of The Maharashtra Public Universities (second amendment) ordinance, 2019 states that the government may postpone elections due to natural calamities or law and order situation, provided that the period specified in the order does not exceed four months in the aggregate. In line with this, an order dated August 14, 2019, signed by the state Secretary for Higher Education Saurabh Vijay stated that the students’ council elections were postponed till November 30. As per law, it is binding to conduct the elections after this date.
“It is compulsory for the state universities to hold the elections. Not doing so would mean a violation of the Act,” said an official involved in drafting the statutes.
The universities will either have to conduct the student council elections or request the state government to issue another order postponing them till the next academic year.
The statutes for conducting the elections were incorporated in the Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016, but its implementation has been awaited since. Then higher education minister Vinod Tawde had last year announced that the elections would take place in all 11 state universities and their affiliated colleges, but due to legal issues, the polls were expected to be held this year.
The elections were slated for August-September, but were postponed by the state government citing a “need for security staff for Assembly elections”.
The President and Secretary of University Students’ Council are ex-officio members of the Senate, and the President is also an invited member of the management council.
“As per the statutes of the Act, it is binding upon the university to conduct elections now that the Assembly elections are over. The students’ council would have a chance to attend one senate meeting of the varsities than two,” said an official. Had the elections been conducted as per the original schedule, the council would have been a part of two yearly varsity senate meetings.
“The government has little role to play in the student elections and the varsities need to take an immediate decision about the elections in their respective management councils,” said an official from Mumbai University.
However, with only four months to go till the end of the present academic year, and the approaching final exams, there seem to be few takers among students for the idea. Students who had already begun preparing to contest the election rued the delay.
Krishna Rahate, a third-year commerce student at VK Krishna Menon College in Bhandup, had begun speaking to his peers and classmates about his idea to contest elections. “I wanted to apply as a representative of the reserved category and had begun envisioning my plans for the campaign. I was disappointed when it was announced to be delayed. Since I am in my last year of college, it was my last chance to be a part of this process,” he said.
Preparations for the elections had begun on a high note at NES Ratnam College, said second-year MSc student Anuj Pawar. “There are several issues which don’t get resolved because of the limitations of the faculty. I’d planned to motivate my peers to partake in the elections and our focus was to highlight the mismanagement of result declarations. Nearly 80 per cent of students who apply for re-evaluations pass. These issues need to be worked on at the university level and student elections are the need of the hour,” said Pawar.
Though the statutes mandate that elections be apolitical, student organisations were readying candidates to participate. “We are waiting to see the result of the state government formation. Whoever comes to power, we will submit a memorandum asking the government to implement the statutes regarding student elections. Despite a steady government, BJP has not implemented the statutes of the Act. The BJP was afraid that many elected students in the council would support Congress,” said Nikhil Kamble, the national secretary of National Students’ Union of India.