HNLU Protests: Students to go on Hunger Strike, VC Sukh Pal Singh warns of dire consequences

Bar & Bench October 1 2018

The students of the Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU) have intimated their decision to commence an indefinite hunger strike from Monday morning in view of Dr Sukh Pal Singh's refusal to step down as Vice Chancellor (VC).

Dr. Singh’s 2014 term-extension as the administrative head of HNLU was quashed by the Chhattisgarh High Court last month. In his place, Ravishankar Sharma, Principal Secretary of the state Law Department had been appointed as the interim VC. However, on September 20, the Supreme Court directed that there would be an interim stay of the High Court’s judgment, in turn prompting Dr. Singh’s return to the University.

His resumption in the post of HNLU's VC promptly sparked off student protests, which gained momentum as the weekend drew to a close. A general body meeting held on Tuesday witnessed student representatives handing over a no-confidence motion against Dr. Singh. On Wednesday evening, the students marched to the VC's residence and submitted an ultimatum demanding that he step down from the post by Friday evening.

On Saturday, student representatives are said to have met the University Chancellor, Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court Ajay Kumar Tripathi for a solution. However, a student statement intimates that the meeting was not entirely fruitful as neither could any relief be assured nor was a timeline provided. Finally, on Sunday evening, the students decided to go on a hunger strike at the start of the week.

In the meanwhile, Dr. Sukh Pal Singh has issued appeals of his own calling on the students to halt their protest. The first appeal issued on Saturday assured that students that no disciplinary action would be taken against them if they were to heed his call to end the strike.

However, as the students stood resolute in their demand for his ouster, Dr. Singh issued a second appeal on Sunday, warning of dire consequences if the students do not call off their protest. His letter contends that the protests are not in accordance with the law and may also amount to contempt of court. It goes on to argue that the protests are not only damaging to the University's image but damaging the prospects of the majority of students. It states,

"The unfortunate part of this protest is that this protest does not seem to be a peaceful protest of the students only. but it is going into the hands of the outsiders which will ultimately cause irreparable damage to the hard-earned image of the university thereby causing loss of good career prospects of those also who do not voluntarily want to be part of this protest. A handful of persons cannot be allowed to play with the academic career and placement prospects of the majority of the students."

While directing that students resume classes from Monday onwards, Dr. Singh has warned that the University could be shut down indefinitely if the protests continue.

"If the students do not call off the protest by the said date and time. the university shall be compelled to take an appropriate course of action including the closure of the University sine die to restore the normalcy in the University."

The students, however, appear to be in no mood to buckle down. A statement declaring their decision to go on a hunger strike starting today morning puts forward three demands, the primary one being the ouster of VC Dr. Sukh Pal Singh. This apart, the students also seek access to the Audit report of the University and the institution of a Review Commission as per the HNLU Act.

"Catalysed by the apathy, the students, following the Gandhian principles of Satyagraha have decided to go on a hunger strike from 8 AM, Monday, October 1, 2018. This is being done in the hopes that the authorities will take immediate and effective actions keeping in mind the student welfare.

The demands of the students are manifest – removal of Dr. Sukh Pal Singh as the Vice Chancellor of the University, access to the Audit Report of the University, and finally the institution of a review commission of the University as per the provisions of the HNLU Act."

The reasons cited for demanding Dr. Singh's ouster as VC has been outlined in the no-confidence motion issued by the students. They fall under the following heads i.e. financial irregularities, inaction against sexual harassment complaints, lack of transparency, suppressing student/student body interests, arbitrary hiring and firing of faculty,  centralisation of administrative powers and maladministration.

Read the Appeal made for halting student protests, dated September 30, 2018:

HNLU Protests - Dr Sukh Pal Singh - Appeal dt Sept 30, 2018

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