The ongoing tussle between students and the administration of TISS Hyderabad mainly on hostel fee hike has taken a new turn with students alleging favouritism towards the private service provider engaged by the authorities.
In responding to the July 15 notice of the TISS Hyderabad’s administration, the Students Action Committee (SAC) – a students’ body that has been leading the agitation – on Tuesday issued a statement challenging the “false claims” and “false allegations” that were made by the administration in its notice “to justify its own draconian measure to curb dissent at campus.”
At first, the statement defies the administration’s reference to SAC as an ‘informal group’ and states that it was formed during the December 2018 protests with approval from the then Deputy Director, S Sivaraju.
The statement further alleged favouritism and accused the administration for giving charge of campus and hostels to C.N. Reddy, a private service provider, who also happens to be a relative of one person in TISS administration, without going through any tendering process. They further alleged that upon enquiry they found out that C N Reddy, whose name came up as the service provider, was a relative of former Finance Officer of TISS Hyderabad, B. Pandu Reddy. This assertion, according to the statement, has been even admitted by Murali Krishna, Chairperson of the SC/ST Equal Opportunities Cell, in a conversation with some students.
With no campus of its own, the TISS Hyderabad campus, in June 2019, shifted to Turkayamjal from Rajendra Nagar in the premises of the K.B. School of Excellence with C.N. Reddy, also the owner of the building, getting control of hostel and food services.
Speaking with Newsclick, the protesting students expressed their skepticism regarding the decision of shifting the campus to a private school building which is way out of the city, from a government building belonging to the Telangana State Institute of Rural Development (TSIRD) which is within the city and is well linked to other institutes dealing in social sciences and rural development spheres.
While the administration said that the shifting of the campus was decided due to “non-extension of the building contract” by TSIRD, the students doubt the “odd choice” of the location and the building, more so, after taking cognizance of the alleged connection between the building owner and the former Finance Officer of TISS Hyderabad.
“The TISS administration has also helped in financing the renovation of the new campus building,” a student told Newsclick on condition of anonymity, raising doubts about compromising with the financial considerations, especially at a time when the administration is said to be facing fund cuts.
What’s more, the TISS Hyderabad administration has denied responsibility for the living conditions of its students, stating that the campus has been ‘non-residential’ since the 2019 academic year. However, the SAC has questioned the authorities how they “fixed the service provider for the students and finalized the tariff without student representatives.”
The SAC statement also claimed that the protesting students had received a mail from the service provider, C N Reddy, offering to step down from managing the hostel and to do as the administration asks him to. Newsclick has accessed the mail sent by Dr. Reddy and affirms the claim made by the statement.
Picture of students protesting at TISS Hyderabad new campus before the SINE-DIE closure
The statement further challenges the sincerity of the administration’s claim about the ‘unanimous confidence’ that was put in the ‘proposal’ by the students availing Government of India Post Matric Scholarship (GOI-PMS), who were present in the meeting held on July 11, the fourth day of agitation.
According to the SAC, Dr. Krishna proposed an interim solution to financially assist ‘exclusively’ the students who had attended the meeting, who were 26 in numbers. No student from SAC was allowed to be part of the meeting.
However, “sensing the lack of sustainability and the limited beneficiaries that the model proposed in the meeting addresses, the GOI-PMS student representatives wrote back to the Convener asking to show the proposal in written before it gets signed,” the statement added. No written proposal has been produced by the authorities till now.
Newsclick spoke to a GOI-PMS scholar who was present in the July 11 meeting, according to whom, not all the 26 scholars expressed their satisfaction with the verbal assurances – contrary to the claim made by the administration in its July 15 notice – and further demanded that the management committee (MC) to give all in writing.
“We were told to wait for 1-2 days as the matter needs to be taken to the TISS Mumbai administration,” she said.
Though next day, the TISS administration approved a financial support of Rs. 15,000 for the 26 GOI-PMS scholars (out of a reported 36 eligible students), the SAC has called it “the administration’s attempt to divide the students by making few students beneficiaries of such mechanisms.”
While conversing with some students, Newsclick also learnt about the various steps that the TISS Hyderabad administration was planning to take, in response to the fund cuts. One of these steps, is to ask the non-scholars to forgo their security deposit which can be then used to provide financial aid to those who are in need.
Steps like limiting student aid, arbitrarily deciding an exorbitant hostel fee and allegedly asking non-scholars to give up their deposit will only lead to slowly shifting the burden of fund cuts of the institute on to the students, especially those coming from marginalised backgrounds.
One of the four students who is still observing hunger strike. This is his eighth day.
Newsclick reached out to the acting deputy director of TISS Hyderabad, Prof. Vindhya for her comments. While declining to comment on the allegations made by the students, she directed us to a letter written by one of TISS’s directors.
Newsclick also tried to speak to SC/ST EO Cell Chairperson Dr. Murali Krishna and the campus building owner Dr. C.N. Reddy, but the calls went unanswered. The story will be updated after receiving their responses.
The students, meanwhile, have filed a writ petition in the High Court today against the administration’s decision to suspend the academic activities. According to the students, sine-die orders can only be given in cases of extreme violence whereas students in TISS Hyderabad were only engaged in peaceful protests and observed hunger strikes.
On July 15, The TISS administration issued an order declaring a SINE-DIE closure of all the academic activities on its Hyderabad campus. The students were asked to vacate the campus on the same day.
However, much to administration’s surprise, the closure of campus didn’t stop the protesting students to withdraw the hunger strikes. One of the four students, who are still observing hunger strike, is AK Prabhakaran, a second-year student of TISS Hyderabad, who chose Facebook to declare his continuation of the hunger strike.
Many student bodies and civil society groups have expressed their discontent over the TISS Hyderabad administration’s decision to shut down academic activities and have asked the administration to accept protesting students’ demands.
On July 17, a condemnation statement signed by as many as 1,350 eminent personalities from the academia, media and political circles was released demanding to revoke the order to close down academic activity.