Manipur University crisis: Students, staff to launch indefinite hunger strike from Friday; institute hasn't functioned since 30 May

It was on 30 May that the members of Manipur University Students’ Union (MUSU) shut down the central university located in Imphal, demanding ouster of the Vice-Chancellor Adya Prasad Pandey, accusing him of having an indifferent attitude towards the institute, especially because of his long absence from the office. He allegedly travels outside the state every month, which affects the functioning of the varsity.

Since then, till date — which is over 70 days — the university has remained non-functional. This has placed the state's entire higher education atmosphere in a quandary, given that about 90 colleges in Manipur are affiliated to the university. Thousands of students in Manipur are staring at uncertainty, with no sign of immediate relief, despite the efforts of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) and the Manipur government, though it has very limited say in the internal affairs of a central varsity.

However, it is no longer an internal issue of the university. People from across the districts in Manipur took out a protest rally on 6 August, demanding immediate re-opening of the university.

 Manipur University crisis: Students, staff to launch indefinite hunger strike from Friday; institute hasnt functioned since 30 May

Students and staff union groups at the Manipur University have been demanding the ouster of Vice-Chancellor Adya Prasad Pandey. Image courtesy:

A group of public protesters clashed with agitators from MUSU and Manipur University Teachers Association (MUTA) at the varsity gate, forcing the police to burst tear gas cells. Eight volunteers of the varsity community were injured during the incident.

The MUTA and Manipur University Staff Association (MUSA), too, have extended unrelenting support to agitation launched by the MUSU. Deans of five schools in the university — humanities, life science, human and environmental science, social science, and mathematical and physical science — have already resigned protesting the stalemate prevailing in the varsity.

The deans of these schools have said that they tried to speak with both the parties regarding the issues but their efforts went in vain. The semester examination for different departments of the university, which were supposed to start from the second week of June, had to be postponed indefinitely.

Pandey, who has now been sent on a 30-day leave after a fact-finding team was constituted by the HRD ministry on 12 July, had stated before the media that the allegations made against him by MUSU were "false and baseless" and that he will not resign from his post.

On the charges leveled against him of not staying at the university for even 10 days a month, unlike previous vice-chancellors, he said that his visit outside the state were for official purpose and related to university works.

He also denied the allegation of irregularities in the installation of smart classes. He mentioned that the smart classes here proposed as per the decisions made in the meeting of higher authority for digitisation. The job of installation of smart classes was given to ITI Limited (a Government of India undertaking) after they won the tender which the university had floated.

Efforts made to resolve the crisis 
Though the Centre sent a joint secretary-level officer in early part of June to hold discussion with the agitating students, the talks failed to break the ice and the impasse is still continuing in the institute.

Of late, there has also been pressure from various quarters for a solution to the varsity impasse.

After Pandey was sent on leave, the senior most professor of the varsity, W Vishwanath, was made the vice-chancellor in-charge.

However, the MUSU, MUTA and the MUSA had opposed the formation of the fact-finding committee, saying that their demand was to constitute an ‘independent’ enquiry committee after Pandey's removal. They termed the committee an “insincere attempt by the ministry meant only to divert the demands of the university community”.

Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh requested HRD minister Prakash Javadekar for an impartial inquiry to be headed by a retired judge of a high court, and so, on 17 July, the ministry reconstituted probe panel.

The re-constituted fact-finding committee is headed by the former acting chief justice of the Meghalaya High Court, T Nandakumar. Also, UGC joint secretary JK Tripathi, and S Singh of the HRD ministry, would be functioning as members of the committee.

The reconstituted fact-finding committee would be free to devise its own procedure for conducting the inquiry, an order by the HRD ministry said. However, according to the order, while formulating the final conclusion, the committee will "rationally consider the response of the concerned persons in accordance with the principles of natural laws".

The committee has been asked to submit its report 17 August, after conducting a field visit and a discussion with all the stakeholders.

However, two days after reconstitution of the fact-finding committee, the MUSA and its allies called for general strike, paralysing life in the state. They stated that while the appointment of a retired acting chief justice as chairman of the committee is laudable, the reconstituted committee was neither independent nor judicial.

Even as the entire state is getting restive over prolonged closure of Manipur University that has put the future of students at stake, the agitating groups have decided to launch indefinite hunger strike from 10 August. Now, mudslinging is beginning among political parties over the issue, creating the atmosphere hazier in the state, where agitations refuse to die down easily.

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Updated Date: Aug 10, 2018 09:10:06 IST