The University Grants Commission (UGC) has said its policy is “not an impediment” to an affirmative action scheme that JNU has scrapped, striking at the root of the defence the varsity has been citing till now.
“Our policy for MPhil and PhD admissions is not an impediment to any affirmative policy like the deprivation points system at JNU. The decision to discontinue the deprivation points system has nothing to do with our policy,” UGC chairman V.S. Chauhan told The Telegraph on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi yesterday on accreditation.
Under the unique deprivation points system that JNU has abandoned, students from backward areas and marginalised sections were given weightage during admission to PhD and MPhil courses.
JNU vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar, who was also present at the conference, refused comment when this newspaper asked him about Chauhan’s statements.
The UGC chairman’s clarification raises questions on what prompted JNU to withdraw the affirmative action at a time concerted efforts are being made to run down the campus that has emerged as one of the few platforms of dissent against the Narendra Modi government.
JNU has been witnessing a sustained students’ agitation for nearly four months after the university adopted the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees) Regulations, 2016, in January this year.
The UGC regulation lays down generic guidelines for all universities and does not mention any particular affirmative policy of an institution.
The policy makes viva voce performance the sole determinant for admission to research courses and says students have to secure 50 per cent marks in the entrance test to qualify for the interview.
The JNU authorities went a step further by scrapping its deprivation points system.
JNU is the only university in the country to have the deprivation points system, which was started in the 80s. Under the system, the university gives up to 10 extra points to students depending on the backwardness of the district they studied in and their background. Widows and children of disabled ex-servicemen are entitled to five points each.
Ganga Sahay Meena, who teaches Hindi at JNU, said the university had a rare mix of students from all backgrounds because of the deprivation points policy. The scrapping of the policy would threaten the character of the institution, he said.
“This policy had played a key role in shaping the university. Students from remote corners of the country aspire to study in JNU because of the deprivation points. Without this, the university will be like any other elite institution,” Meena said.
A senior JNU official said a recent Delhi High Court judgment had made the UGC regulation binding on the university.
“The court said the UGC regulation is binding on the university. The UGC regulation does not provide for deprivation points in MPhil and PhD admission. That is why we have stopped the system. But we are continuing the deprivation points for admission to MA and undergraduate courses,” the official said.
In the judgment, the court has said: “The said (UGC) regulations are applicable/binding on the respondent university in view of the operation of provisions of the UGC Act, 1956.”
UGC chief Chauhan, however, said the commission’s regulations never made it mandatory for JNU to start the deprivation points, nor would they prevent the institution from continuing with these.
An official in the human resource development ministry said JNU had misinterpreted the UGC regulations.
“The UGC has provided broad principles. The idea is to ensure minimum quality. But it should not be used to scrap any distinct policy that the institution has for the marginalised,” the official said.
Some students’ organisations have challenged the single-judge bench’s verdict before a division bench of Delhi High Court, which will hear the matter on Friday.