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Central University of Orissa asked its students to leave hostels

Central University of Orissa (CUO) shut down all academic activities indefinitely and ordered the students to leave hostels on March 15, 2018. This order came after students demanded better facilities in hostels and campus. Police were called inside the campus to evict students if they refused to leave hostels. Vice Chancellor (VC) Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty told media that the move was done anticipating violence in the students’ agitation.

Demands by Students

Students say that the action of the VC is the result of a number of issues in the University that the students decided to question.

On March 1, 2018, students assembled in front of the girls’ hostel. A charter of 60 demands was submitted to the VC through the wardens of both the hostels, Chief Warden, Dean (Academics) and Joint Registrar. They were assured a response by March 10, 2018.

The students did not get any response from the administration and neither were any actions taken to address their concerns. This prompted another protest on 14 March 2018.

As the girl students assembled in front of their hostel they were attacked, grabbed by their hand and touched without consent by the faculty. The faculty along with Heads of the Department and OSD (Officer on Special Duty) forced their way in and attempted to break the locks that the students had put on the gates.

As per the students,

Vice Chancellor Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty arrived at the gathering and threatened them. The staff also showered them with expletives later.

The students were warned that their careers would be ruined and that they would be arrested.

A video of the incident shows the VC shouting ‘FIR’ (First Information Report) pointing at the students and calling in the police stationed next to him.

To this allegation, Mohanty responded, “In the digital medium, that is only one side of the story. The other side of the story is that we have had engagement with the student community.”

Following this incident, the students called for a boycott of classes starting the next day.

On the next day (15 March 2018) a circular was issued (TWJ has obtained a copy of the same) asking the students to vacate the hostels within an hour.

Students Evicted From Hostels

The police were called in and the students were forced to comply. Most of the students did not have the money required to catch trains and go home. Around 450 students, including women, were forced to sleep at Jagannath Mandir, Korapur and the platform of the Korapur railway station. Most students were forced to travel without tickets due to lack of money.

One of the students said that after they reached home, the police made calls to their parents issuing warnings and threats.

WhatsApp Image 2018-03-29 at 9.19.17 AM
Around 450 students at Korapur railway station

The demands put forward by the students concern the functioning, maintenance, and installation of a number of facilities on campus, in hostels and in academic buildings. More than 50 demands ranging from fitting lamps in bathrooms to providing ATMs and card swiping facilities on campus were submitted.

Some of the student demands were — Copy machines and printers, water supply in hostels, wi-fi facility for students, setting up of a students’ council, an auditorium, appointment of permanent faculty, setting up of a medical facility on campus.

There are also demands for restructuring of courses, workshops etc. One of the demands is filing an RTI (Right to Information) regarding the amount spent on the construction of a parking shed. The demand for a University magazine is followed by the suggestion to return Rs. 50 that was paid by the students for the magazine if the demand is not met.

The students have also pointed out that even when Koratpur has a big SC/ST population, there is no SC/ST grievance cell in the university.

VC Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty said that a ‘portion’ of the demands of the students was being taken care of and that the rest had been sent to MHRD for approval. “The whole issue has been resolved. We are going to open the University on the 2nd (April 2018) for the hostel. From the 3rd, classes are going to commence,” he told TWJ.

Financial and Administrative Irregularities

VC Sachidananda Mohanty ordered the police to deal with the protesting students

In a 30 paged letter sent by ex-Registrar Rajive Chauhan addressed to the VC, and copied to 16 other heads and committees of administration on 28 October 2017, alleged that Mohanty, who joined CUO as VC on 7 August 2015, illegally and unconstitutionally removed three statutory key University officers (Registrar, Finance Officer and Controller of Examinations) from their positions in November 2015.

There was also a list of financial misconduct in 25 or more instances, where funds were allocated for the personal needs of the VC violating audit and vigilance rules.

Spending Rs. 25 Lakhs from the public fund to renovate the VC’s residence is one among the unauthorised dealings stated in the list. It also mentions wilful inaction for Recovery of Economic Loss (Rs. 12 Lakhs or more) inflicted on the University by M/S Godrej & Boyce Ltd, Bhubaneswar in the purchase of Furniture worth about Rs. 2 crores or more ignoring the advice of Finance Officer.

Appointment of local contractors bypassing the rules for accepting contracts is another of the allegations that cite many occurrences. Submission of inadmissible bills, including that of hiring of a vehicle at Bhubaneswar while being physically present in Hyderabad, travelling by private airlines other than Air India in the non-permissible sectors without approval of the MHRD /Ministry of Civil Aviation, travelling in Business/Executive Class disregarding the austerity measures recommended by Government of India are other major allegations. The letter also enumerates the times when appointments to various posts were made violating the service rules.

“Completely baseless,” Mohanty replied about these allegations while speaking to TWJ. Mohanty also retorted that it was the appointment of Rajive Chauhan and others that was irregular and that he was vindictive because Mohanty exposed it resulting in the nullification of these appointments.

Dismissal of a Sexual Harassment Complaint

Among the allegations, is an instance of sexual harassment which was not looked into as required. The letter says that there was deliberate attempt to protect the culprits. ‘There has been a sexual harassment case, which has been closed down by the CUO authorities wherein the honest recording of victim’s statement has not been done in order to shield the culprits. (Even after the accused has accepted in writing twice to have committed the offence.) The victim has approached the apex body National Commission for Women (NCW) for granting her justice along with all the voice recordings of ICC to prove the dishonesty in recordings,’ it states.

VC Mohanty replied to TWJ — Internal Complaints Committee for Sexual Harassment was chaired by Rajive Chauhan and that this was against the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013. According to the Act, this position has to be held by a woman. The case was handled by a duly constituted committee and they have submitted the report. Also, It has been sent to the MHRD, UGC (University Grants Commission) NCW and MHRD. Mr. Mohanty added that he could not divulge what decision was taken based on the report because of confidentiality concerns.

The letter concludes stating the various infrastructure and academic achievements of the ex-VCs Prof. Surabhi Banerjee, Prof. Miyan, and Prof. Talat Ahmed for which Mohanty is alleged to take credit. It also states that the Registrar and the Finance Officer were threatened and insulted by the VC for having called out these discrepancies and issues.

What next?

Even though the students have been informed that classes and other academic activities will resume from April 3, students while speaking to TWJ confirmed that they were going to continue with their protest till all their demands were met.

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