Since last month, the Panjab University (PU) has been in a state of chaos. Students of Panjab University boycotted classes on Tuesday morning, calling for a bandh. The situation turned tense as the state police resorted to water cannons to control the protesters who were pelting stones. The police also used tear gas on the students and a number of people on both sides have been injured in the upheaval. The student leaders sought refuge in a gurudwara located on the varsity campus. Subsequently, the police entered the gurdwara with lathis but did not enter its sanctum sanctorum
What is the protest about?
The agitation by several student groups on the campus began on March 26 after the PU senate approved a fee hike by 12.5 per cent for all courses of university departments and its regional centres for the 2017-18 session. This came even after PU instituted a hike of 5 per cent on its fees last year.
The decision implies that the fees for the new academic session starting July will see a minimum increase of Rs 2,000 and a maximum increase of Rs 82,000 approximately, depending on the course.
A student of Bachelors of Arts or Commerce will pay Rs 10,000 against the previous Rs 2,200.
BPharma students will pay Rs 50,000 as opposed to the previous fee of Rs 5,000.
Several student organisations – Students for Society (SFS), the National Student Union of India (NSUI), the Panjab University Students’ Union (PUSU) and the Students Organisation of India (SOI), have been leading protests against the fee hike along with students in Chandigarh colleges.
Political student bodies including ABVP and NSUI have declared indefinite hunger strikes until the PU authorities reverse the proposed hike and agree to reassess policy decisions in this regard.
Why has there been a hike in the fees?
In 2014, Panjab University witnessed a financial crunch. Since then, the university has been making consistent efforts to acquire funds from the state and the centre.
With a little help from the government, the Vice Chancellor (VC) Professor Arun Kumar Grover was forced to hike the fees by 5 percent last year. As the financial capacity of the university failed to improve, a further hike by 12.5 per cent was induced, terming it as a “need of the hour.”
PU was the cheapest varsity in the region, apart from central universities, until last year. The students argue that the university will only be affordable to the elite section if the hike is not reversed.
Panjab University had also increased its entrance exam fees in September last year, leading to agitations. But this was a slight hike as opposed to the recent increase in tuition fees.
Every student party in the campus submitted a memorandum to the VC regarding the issue, following which representatives of all student bodies and office bearers of PU Campus Students’ Council were summoned for talks. However, the meeting was futile as the VC expressed his helplessness over the situation.
Subsequently, the VC held a press conference where he added that the withdrawal of the hike will only be possible if the university received substantial grants from government bodies.
However, his statement caused further protests.
Violence in the protests
On April 7, students gatecrashed the VC’s office complex, blocking it for six hours.
The police used force to disperse the students, dragging both girls and boys out. As the students refused to budge, they were charged with water cannons. The police intervention led to many students being injured and a girl reportedly fainted, but student leaders requested that the protests continue until the VC steps out, which never happened.
On April 10, around 200 students led by Panjab University Students Council (PUCSC) gathered at the students’ centre at 11 AM to march toward the Governor’s residence, Punjab Raj Bhavan. In anticipation of the protest, police vans gathered outside Raj Bhavan and students were stopped at the gate using barricades. The scuffle led to the arrest of 15 students, including PUCSC President.
The remaining students sat on the gate, sloganeering against the VC and the police. The student march was organised to hand over a memorandum prepared by the students. Apart from lowering the fees, the student demands include no detention of those who are short of attendance and recruitment of teachers.
On April 11, the angry protesters marched to the Student centre in the varsity and announced PU bandh. 52 students were arrested as the protests turned violent. Several police officers and journalists were also injured as the students allegedly started pelting stones and flower pots at the cops. In retaliation, the police charged the students with lathis and tear gas bombshells.
VC Arun Kumar Grover on Monday floated the idea of on-campus part-time jobs for the students to enable them to afford the tuition fees.
The police slapped sedition charge against 66 students on Tuesday. However, SSP Eish Singhal denied this and said that there was a complaint about pressing sedition charge, but the police did not find evidence to support it.
The Logical Indian Take
The protest against Panjab University’s fee hike has been extended since last month, with no solution proposed by either the university authorities or the state and central governments. The protests have disrupted classes and hampered the students’ education.
As a public university, PU’s tuition fees should be set at a level affordable by students from all spectra of society. With 12.5% increase, in addition to the 5% hike last year, the tuition fees of PU is unreasonably high. If the university lacks funds, it’s the government’s job to resolve the incapacity and not put the burden on the students’ shoulders.
The protests have turned violent with the students being charged with water cannons and tear gas shells. Colleges across the state are being affected due to the government’s flawed approach. It is time the state government intervenes in the matter and tries to reach a consensus with the students.