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Published in the 16-29 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Autonomy of higher studies centres threatened
By Ziauddin Ahmad

“Bade khutray main hae husn-e-gulistan hum na kehte the Chaman tak aagai dewar-e-zindan hum na kehte the”

“Hum hi se rang-e-gulistan, hum hi se range-e-bahar Hum he ko nazm-e-gulistan pe ikhtiyar nahin”.

The following brief attempts to highlight the threat looming large on the autonomy and the special status enjoyed by Centres of Higher Learning in the country.

CAUSE OF THREAT
The UGC & AICTE (All India Council for Tech. Education) are pressurizing central universities (including AMU) and IITs etc to come under the Common All India Tests(CAT) to be conducted by a central agency, for admissions to technical and professional courses.
This insistence is unjustified as it does not have the force of law and runs counter to the special status and historical background of certain institutions like AMU, Vellore Medical College, IITs etc. Here are the details.

AUTONOMY OF UNIVERSITIES
All central institutions are statutory organizations under their respective Acts of Parliament and so are UGC & AICTE (under general laws). The sphere of the activities of each of them is well-defined. There is no over-riding of powers, obviously, for proper and friction-free functioning. On the other hand, Govt. agencies were assigned the functions of co-ordination and maintenance of standards and to fulfill these objectives, they are required to make suggestions and recommendations as and when necessary. Allocation of funds was a necessary corollary of the incorporation of the Act and was without strings attached. Under this provision all central institutions though fully aided, were declared autonomous.

AMU gate

Universities are governed under Acts, Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations. the present issue of admissions is governed by the Academic Ordinances and the stipulated change in mode of admission, on the insistence of the UGC could only be brought about by amending the relevant ordinances by the universities themselves. Under rules, amendment to Academic Ordinances can only be brought about by the Executive Council (EC) at the behest of the Academic Council (AC). In AMU, the AC has rejected the proposal in its meeting held on 1 Dec. 2003 (Delhi University and Jamia Hamdard followed suit). Obviously, therefore, the required amendment cannot be made and new mode of admission just cannot be introduced. 

It needs to be noted that no outside agency or ministry are empowered to bring about the referred amendment. Such a limitation is well-defined, leaving central institutions, independent and free of outside interferences. Factually, the intervention is allowed only when an institution fails to discharge its assigned statutory duties.

SPECIAL STATUS OF AMU: THE MINORITY CHARACTER
AMU is a Minority Institution because the AMU Amendment Act of 1981 defines it as “the educational institution of their choice established by the Muslims of India, which originated as the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College, Aligarh and was subsequently incorporated as the Aligarh Muslim University.” 
The question of administering the university was settled by the Supreme Court (1968) where it observed that when an Institution is established by a minority it is implicit that the institution would be administered by the minority itself.
It is important to note that AMU has thus come under the ambit of the Article (30) of the Constitution of India and was incorporated as Minority Institution by the AMU amendment Act of 1981.

SECTION 5(2)(C): STRENGTHENING THE MINORITY STATUS
In consonance with the Minority status care has been taken by our forefathers to get incorporated the special provision in the power of the University under Section (5)(2)(C) of the Act, (which is without a parallel in any Indian University). This reads “to promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India”. Under this provision, powers have been vested to make reservations for Muslim students in all courses. 

UNIVERSITY COURT, AS SUPREME GOVERNING BODY
Coupled with the Section 5(2)(C), the declaration that the University Court is the supreme governing body and that the VC shall be selected by it from amongst the Muslim community, the Court will have powers to make policies and review the functioning of the University. The Court is so composed (180 members approx.) as to draw the majority of its members from the Muslim Community, who represent all shades of opinion. Thus the fact that the community is allowed to play a vital role in the affairs of the university further strengthens its special status.

SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR MUSLIMS (EDUCATIONALLY BACK WARD)
The whole issue should also be viewed from the fact that the Muslims today rank lowest in education and Govt. services. If the minority educational institutions, present and future, are deprived in practice of their rights to keep preference to and find placements for candidates of the establishing community in their own institutions, a community which is already deprived and backward educationally, shall suffer further fall in its representation in the field of higher education. If the purpose and objective of our educational plan, inter alia, is to promote higher education for deprived and backward communities, the common admission tests, if applied to their institutions, shall become a limiting even negative factor.

CASE OF THE UGC:
The arguments advanced are:
1. Hardships faced by students due to multiplicity of tests spread all over the country as they are required to travel long distances at substantial financial cost.
2. Ensuring transparency and upholding of merit. 
The academic community is not buying the hypothesis of hardships. On the contrary, they insist that multiplicity of tests provide sufficient opportunities for the aspirants to try their luck again and again and save the precious years and at the same time, they are in a convenient position to choose institutions of their liking.
So far as the questions of merit and quality of the entrants are concerned, the AMU and, of course, all other central institutions have been conducting their own tests for several decades without a finger being raised on the transparency, efficiency and standards of admissions. The increasing number of applicants, year after year from every corner of the country, bear enough testimony to the adequacy of tests. 

IMPLICATIONS OF S.C. JUDGEMENTS
The Supreme Court, while focusing its attention on the question of merit, expressed in favour of conducting tests by the State or the universities and in conformity with this, the AMU Court has exempted institutions enjoying special status and those which have been conducting their own tests for over 25 years and referred to the Medical College, Vellore, Islamic Academy of Education etc. The AMU definitely belongs to these categories.

Furthermore, the UGC & AICTE have also exempted the IITS in the Transitory Regulations recently framed and notified.
The high-handedness is also exposed by the fact that the UGC adopted this posture long before the judgments of the Supreme Court, under which it is seeking refuge now. Moreover, in its enthusiasm, the Ministry seems to have taken a final decision to reject university stands and has decided to proceed with further action against universities even without caring to refer the matter to the ‘committee’ proposed by the Supreme Ccourt for the purpose of exemptions.
Furthermore, it is worthwhile to recall that the Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India, as early as 2000-2001 in a critical and final response to the insistence of the Parliamentary Committee on reservation of S.C./S.T. categorically stated that the central universities are autonomous institutions and therefore, we cannot interfere in their functioning. This should clinch the present issue outright for the central universities. 

The insistence of the Govt. and its agencies is a clear denial of democratic norms and statutory rights, threatening the very survival of AMU and other seats of higher learning. However, AMU, Jamia Hamdard and Delhi University have set the ball rolling by going ahead with entrance tests on their own, as usual. 

SANCTIONS UGC CAN IMPOSE ON DEFIANCE
How real and effective could the UGC’s threat be of withholding grants of those institutions which do not fall in line. The direct and immediate outcome of such a misadventure shall be non-payment of salaries to teachers and employees, leading to an instant suspension of work. Can the UGC afford to take such a plunge to penalize students and employees for no fault of theirs. Though it is an oft-repeated threat yet a remote possibility, at least in the present situation, because of the large ramifications and implications of such a step.
Besides all other measures one may initiate, it is time to approach the President of India, the Visitor of Universities, with the request to use his good offices to restrain the Govt. and the UGC & AICTE from mis-adventure in their own interest and in the larger interest of freedom and sanctity of higher education in the country.

Hausla chahiye tameer-e-nasheman ke liye 
Shikwa khana-e-barundaz se kiya hota hai” 


The writer is a former professor of Botany, AMU and may be contacted at bachchiz@rediffmail.com

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