The students of Hidayatullah National Law University have gone on an indefinite hunger strike from 01/10/2018. Even after many attempts made by the students asking Dr. Sukh Pal Singh to vacate the office as he does not have any moral grounds to remain the VC of the University, the VC has denied to step down and in addition released a statement which states that the University shall be locked down sine die to restore normalcy in the University, if the students do not call off the protest.
Dr. Sukh Pal Singh was removed from the office of Vice-Chancellor by the Chhattisgarh High Court in Dr. Avinash Samal v. State of Chhattisgarh, pursuant to the quashing of the order extending his tenure as the Vice-Chancellor of HNLU. He has since resumed office from 26-9-2018 with the Supreme Court staying the High Court order.
An SLP was filed in the Supreme Court against the judgment of the High Court, and a Division Bench of the Supreme Court ordered a stay on the impugned judgment. Bound by the order of the Apex Court, the Chancellor of University reinstated Dr. Sukh Pal Singh as the Vice Chancellor of Hidayatullah National Law University.
The Student Body requested Dr. Sukh Pal Singh to answer on issues which were neglected by him for so many years. He failed to give a reasonable answer as to why some most needed steps were not taken for the welfare of the university. There has been a blatant violation of the rules of the university by the Dr. Sukhpal Singh in his tenure which compelled the students of HNLU to move a no-confidence letter against him. The Student body asked him to resign his seat as the students have lost faith in the incompetent administration of Dr. Sukh Pal Singh and his style of arbitrary and discriminatory decision making.
The grounds of the no-confidence letter are:–
1. Allegations of Financial irregularity
• In 2016, the Chairman of the State Bar Council, a former member of the Executive Council, had made a list of grave complaints against the administration headed by Dr Singh. These complaints ranged from financial irregularities with respect to purchase and store of items to rampant corruption in the construction of the University. In pursuance of these as well as many other complaints, the then Chancellor initiated a special audit of the University. The report has been out for many months, yet has not been tabled in front of decision making authorities of the University. We strongly feel that a reason for the same is that, the details of the report could be extremely embarrassing for the administration.
• The State Government of Chhattisgarh has been kind enough to grant funds to the University to participate in national and international moot court competitions as well as national and international seminars. However, in August 2017, vide Letter No. 177330/HNLU/Reg./2017, the University released an Order stating “it shall not be possible for the university to provide financial help”, even while the State continued to provide funds to the University. Further, the interim Vice-Chancellor, Mr. R.S.Sharma disbursed these funds within days of taking over the Office of Vice-Chancellor. This raises serious questions on the use of the State finances meant for the welfare of the students by Dr. Singh.
• Chhattisgarh State Child Rights Protection Commission proposed to establish a Child Right’s and Law Centre at HNLU on 27.05.2015. On 22.08.2015, the Executive Council approved the proposal. It has come to our knowledge that since then, the State Government has sanctioned funds for the functioning of the Child Right’s and Law Centre. The fact that such a Centre is non-existent raises serious doubts of financial irregularity. Further, it forces us to question the moral values of an administration that has failed to utilize the funds meant for the protection of the rights of children.
• In 2015, Executive Council accorded Rs 67,70,543 for construction and development of Pond Area by Stonework, Pavement, Pathway, Fountains, etc. It is concluded that the amount sanctioned by the Executive Council has not been put to use by the administration as the ‘pond area’ has mosquito infested stagnant water instead of the sanctioned fountains.
2. Inaction on allegations of sexual harrasment
• Certain students from Batch 17 had personally met Dr. Sukh Pal Singh and provided a hand written complaint of sexual harassment against a faculty member. The complaint contained 51 signatories. No action was taken by Dr. Singh. It is also important to note, that these students went to the VC directly, as they wanted immediate action. However, Dr. Singh dismissed the complaint by terming it an exaggeration without any inquiry. Therefore, the same faculty continues to teach the same set of students, indicating Dr. Sukh Pal’s casual attitude towards serious complaints of harassment against the members of the faculty.
• It is also brought to your attention that the students have lost faith in the independence of the Internal Complaints Committee due to constant interference by Dr. Singh in the functioning of the committee.
3. Lack of transparency-
• According to Section of the HNLU Act, a review commission is to be instituted to review the working of the university every 5 years. No such commission has ever been set up by Dr. Singh. This further highlights an authoritarian style of administration that is not willing to have any review of its functioning or hear any suggestions on improving. The inaction on this front seems to be a deliberate move to hide the failures. Moreover such inaction is against not just the Act but also the founding objectives of the university.
• According to the HNLU Act, UGC Guidelines on Student Entitlements and the RTI Act, the Students have to be informed about the meetings of the decision making authorities of the university, the financial statements and the budgetary allocations of the university. None of these were made public by Prof. Dr. Sukh Pal Singh.
• Moreover, the Rules and Regulations of the university are missing from the website and cannot be sourced from anywhere else. Therefore instead of functioning on rules and regulations the university has been functioning on the whims and fancies of Dr. Singh.
4. Suppressing the interests of the Students and Student Body
• The Student-teacher ratio is an appalling 1:32 (lowest in top six national law university). This has forced the authorities to conduct classes with more than 100 students in a lecture. It is pertinent to note that better faculties are recruited to maintain the academic quality in any university.
• The university boasts of having Six Schools of excellence to foster research on various facets of law. However these schools have been reduced to a PR stunt as they exist only on the website of the university.
• In 2011 the Finance Committee proposed the establishment of ‘UNICEF Child Rights Centre’ at a cost of Rs 61,35,800, out of which Rs 17,51,00 would have been borne by HNLU. Even after, the approval of the Executive Council, the Centre remains nonexistent.
• The research output of the university is nil. Apart from nonexistent Schools of Excellence, HNLU boasts of it only journal- HNLU Journal of Law and Social Sciences. The functioning of the journal highlights the casual attitude of the administration towards research and academic excellence. The 2015 issue which is the second volume was published only in 2018. Moreover, the administration has called for papers for the 5th Volume in April 2018, without releasing the third and fourth issue.
• The recruitment prospects of the university are a metric to judge the quality of any Institution. Over the years, the recruitment prospects at HNLU have been limited to Chhattisgarh Mantralaya and ICICI Bank. Multiple requests for either having a recruitment officer or hiring a recruitment consultation agency have been persistently ignored by the administration.
• On multiple occasions, the Student Body had raised issues to improve the quality of academics in the university, including the need to have a feedback mechanism, organize workshops and seminars on a regular basis. None of these demands were even acknowledged. Further, they were dismissed due to the lack of funds with the administrative authorities to organize such initiatives. Hence, no Seminar or Conference has been conducted since 2017.
• The legitimate demands of the student body have been suppressed by declaring fresh Student Body Elections before the completion of tenure. Such announcements are made on an arbitrary basis with a notice giving students less than 24 hours to prepare for elections.
5. Arbitrary hiring and firing of faculty
• In 2017, the administration arbitrarily terminated the services of 14 members of the faculty with immediate effect. The order of termination was devoid of reason as certain Professors holding PhDs were also dismissed. This highlights Dr. Singh’s attitude towards the backbone of the university- the Professors.
• After terminating their services, the university grappled with a problem of insufficient faculty. This forced the administration to hire a new set of teachers on an ad-hoc basis. Few of these, newly hired faculty are extremely incompetent and cannot even communicate in the medium of instruction as mentioned in the recruitment notification of the university. Further, they do not have any prior experience. This has contributed to the fall in academic standards.
6. Centralisation of administrative power
• As VC, Dr. Sukh Pal Singh, has had direct control over the office of the registrar for 7 years. This is because there is no permanent registrar in the university. This has forced students to approach the VC even for trivial tasks such as getting A4 size papers.
• Further, the administration has been completely centralized and a few individuals hold all key administrative positions. For instance, Dr. Deepak Srivastava has been blessed with 8 different administrative posts (apart from his primary duty as an Assistant Professor) including key offices such as, Controller of Examination, First Appellate Authority, Chairperson of Purchase Committee, Legal Officer of the University, Faculty Coordinator of Library and Sports Committee, Registrar-in-charge(till 2017), etc. This blatant concentration of administrative power has hampered the functioning of the university.
• Dr. Sukh Pal Singh also constantly interferes and directs the proctorial board in decision making against the students, thereby destroying the independence of key administrative organs of the university.
• It is almost ironic that a lack of staff was always cited as a reason for not being able to extend the library timings beyond 10:30 pm, while a person employed as a library attendant was appointed as a cook at the VC Bungalow. Such arbitrary actions have been the hallmark of Dr. Singh’s tenure as the VC and this incident, in particular, establishes that he never considered an extension of library timings as a genuine demand of the students.
• The university arbitrarily bought 16 Smart Classroom Kits (Projector, Digital Board and Podium) without consulting the Executive Council or the Student body. After purchasing these kits, the administration installed just 8 of them. When the Audit report was being prepared by the Accountant General of Chhattisgarh, the administration was reprimanded for installing just 8 kits. Therefore, the administration found it wise to install the remaining kits in the first-floor classrooms of the new academic block which do not even have tables and chairs.
• We would also like to point out that Dr. Sukh Pal’s administration was not just arbitrary but also insensitive. Despite multiple proposals and requests made to the administration, they have refused to make the university accessible to PWD students, even when we have a student who is visually impaired. While the university continues to admit such students, the administration continues to neglect their needs. The idea of an inclusive and accessible campus seems like a distant dream under Dr. Singh’s reign.
Mr. Singh, after being submitted the letter by Snehal Ranjan (President SBA) refused to resign. Consequently, the students of HNLU are sitting on an indefinite protest. This protest will continue unless and until Mr. Singh vacates his office.