West Bengal: Presidency protest over hostel latest flashpoint in govt-student conflict

A section of students have brought their belongings along and are sleeping on the corridor to protest in demand of being immediately shifted to Eden Hindu Hostel which is under renovation.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata | Published: August 13, 2018 3:27:15 am
Students of Presidency University organise a feast on the campus as part of their protest. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

The corridor outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office at Presidency University has transformed into a dormitory over the past one week. A section of students have brought their belongings along and are sleeping on the corridor to protest in demand of being immediately shifted to Eden Hindu Hostel which is under renovation.

With authorities maintaining that it will take at least four more months to complete renovation work, the 60-odd students have decided not to return to their temporary accommodation in New Town and stay on the campus till they are shifted to the Hindu Hostel, located next to the university campus on College Street.

The hostel building was shut for renovation on July 29, 2015 and 150 boarders shifted to a rented accommodation at New Town, about 18 km from the university.

“The temporary accommodation is uninhabitable. Authorities had assured us that the boarders will be shifted to Eden Hindu Hostel by August 1. But they failed to meet the deadline and are now saying that work has not been completed yet. But, the students cannot live in their present lodging. Therefore, they have decided to turn this campus into their hostel and stay here till they are shifted to Hindu Hostel,” said Arindam Dolai, general secretary, Presidency University Students’ Union.

The protest is the latest in a series of recent student agitations in state-run institutions of West Bengal. On July 23, about 21 students of Calcutta Medical College and Hospital lifted a 14-day hunger strike after authorities agreed to their demand to accommodate second, third and fourth year students in a newly built 11-storey hostel. Five students had to be hospitalised during the protest.

On July 10, Jadavpur University authorities revoked their decision to scrap admission tests in six Humanities subjects following student protests.

Apart from these major agitations, smaller protests over fees and exam rules have taken place in state-run universities. In comparison, central government-funded institutions in Bengal, such as Visva Bharati University, have not witnessed any major protest.

Former Presidency College Principal Amal Mukhopadhyay told The Indian Express, “Some protests are unjustified. For example, when students who fail in the examination launch a protest, demanding that they be promoted. On the other hand, students of Presidency University have launched a protest demanding that they be allowed to stay at the renovated hostel. The vice-chancellor could not deliver what she had promised in time. It is a just cause.”

Mukhopadhyay said, “The education department feels it can now control all educational institutions since it is providing the finance. This is how they have killed the autonomy of institutions. Authorities have to comply with the orders out of fear. This intervention of the government in educational institutions is unjustifiable. The present ruling party thinks they will place some persons in top institutions who are in total subjugation to them.”

According to a section of teachers, the West Bengal Universities and Colleges (Administration and Regulation) Bill, 2017, passed by the Assembly in February last year, compromised autonomy of colleges and universities. “Under the new Bill, there is no student representative in the executive council of a university. Also, any person ‘interested in education’ can be appointed chairman of governing bodies in colleges. Earlier, only educationists held such posts. These activities are aimed at controlling universities,” said JU professor Nandini Mukherjee.

Congress leader and Jadavpur University professor Om Prakash Mishra said, “Students are fighting for basic requirements like hostel. Had the state government ensured these, they would not need to protest.”

CPM students’ wing SFI said the protests were spontaneous. “The government has stopped holding students union polls and plans to do away with the unions. It is evident that they don’t want to give students a platform to raise their demands. Students have run out of patience,” said SFI state secretary Srijan Bhattacharya.

The state government has said these protests are “internal matters” of the universities. “They are internal matters of universities. Let them address such issues. We will not interfere,” Education Minister Partha Chatterjee has said.

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