Monsoon has come and gone, and with that, we are faced with a brand new draconian imposition upon our universities. This time, it’s the Central Civil Service (CCS) Conduct Rules of 1964, which were amended in 2014. After an already rolled back (so far) attempt to impose the even more draconian ESMA on Delhi University, which would allow teachers to be imprisoned for going on strike, the MHRD is now hellbent on imposing CCS on Central Universities via the UGC-MHRD vide circular F No 22-9/2017(CU) of 1st May, 2018. The aforementioned circular instructed universities ‘such time that the concerned University formulates its Statutes, Ordinances, and Regulations, for service matters, the University should follow the Govt of India rules/orders as applicable to Central Govt. Civilian employees.’ This symbolizes the most extreme form of state control of universities, and is a declaration of an internal emergency in universities. Faculty members in older Central Universities such as JNU have opposed it vehemently, while some of the newer Central Universities have already adopted the same. (For a deeper look at the matter, please go here.)
The Visitor, Central Universities
Hon’ble President of India
Respected Shri Kovind,
I write this appeal to you, regarding the May 1, 2018 circular F. No. 22-9/2017(CU) from UGC-MHRD to Central Universities. This letter instructs universities that ‘till such time that the concerned University formulates its Statutes, Ordinances, and Regulations, for service matters, the University should follow the Govt of India rules/orders as applicable to Central Govt. Civilian employees.’
Different Central Universities have responded to these instructions in two ways. The first has been to issue a circular mandating compliance with Central Civil Service (CCS) Rules 1965, the second has been to incorporate the conduct rules in university statutes on the grounds that this is mandated by the UGC.
This letter is to alert you, the Visitor of all Central Universities, about the dangers that an imposition of these rules present — for teachers’ academic work of teaching and research, their rights to privacy and political participation, their role and contribution to democratic processes and society, as well as the very idea of university autonomy.
Even a cursory examination of the CCS Rules will be enough to convince you that the rules are designed solely for those civil servants who execute and implement government policy. Teachers are not government servants by the definitions in the rules themselves, a fact that led the Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court, in Dr. Suchitra Mitra and Anr. v. Union of India (2015), to conclude that: “The professors of the university are neither members of a service nor do they hold a civil post under the union nor are they in the service of local or other authority. CCS(CCA) rules would, therefore, have no application to a central university.”
In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the adverse impact a number of clauses in the CCS Rules will have, if imposed on central university teachers.
i) Rules 8 and 9 will bring research and teaching to a grinding halt. Rule 8 (i) states that “No employee shall, except with the previous sanction of the University, own wholly or in part, or conduct, or participate in the editing or management of any newspaper or other periodical”. Rule 8 (ii) prohibits the publication of books and articles save for a purely scientific or literary character. Rule (9) makes it clear that all such intervention must not be of a nature that “has the effect of an adverse criticism of the Government” or embarrass relations with the Union or with any foreign government.
This rule has the effect of putting a blanket ban on freedom of speech and expression in the classroom, in research papers and articles, and in public life. In effect, they introduce censorship as a condition of service. Indian academics will not be able to engage in, and with, critiques of government policy, and will also not be able to fulfill their professional duties freely— editorships and membership of editorial boards are a matter of prestige in many disciplines, but teachers will not be allowed to accept them without prior sanction. Rule 9 will deprive teachers of the opportunity and moral obligation to inform and influence public opinion, an essential role of academia, and the chief way in which it can give back to society.
ii) Rule 5 bars all political participation and activity, beyond voting by the teacher and his family. For example, Rule 5(1) maintains that “no employee shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with any political party or any organization which takes part in politics, nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or activity”. Therefore, arguably no teacher can exercise the freedom to be a member of political party.
The application of this rule would mean that central university teachers must, in order to preserve their jobs, renounce principled subscription to political parties, any organization that takes part in politics, political movements or activities, and thus bars them from contesting elections. Not only will this entail a great loss to our democracy — over the last seven decades many academics have brought great lustre to our country’s political firmament — it makes sacrifice of fundamental rights under Article 19 a precondition for employment.
In university governance, this rule has the power to legitimise witch hunts, given that university administrators are appointed by the ruling party. It should also be kept in mind that for many backward sections, particularly SCs, STs, OBCs, employment in education provides the necessary social and economic capital for entry into public life. This rule therefore amounts to shunting out academics from the task of building cultures of constitutionalism and equality. The blanket caution against “any political movement or activity” would mean that teachers’ participation in mass rallies or collective mobilisations – even of the nature recently witnessed around the Nirbhaya rape case – might now constitute a breach of service rules and thus invite punishment.
iii) Rules 6 and 7 allow university administrations to define what is prejudicial and contrary to national interest, public order, decency or morality. Rule 6 states that “no employee, teaching or non-teaching, of the University shall join or continue to be a member of an association, the object or activities of which are prejudicial to the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, decency or morality”. Rule 7 prohibits participation in any demonstration or strike for the same reasons.
The apprehension with this rule is that University administrations will be empowered to label any act as ‘misconduct’, based on subjective and partisan appreciation of these terms.
Universities are breeding grounds for social reform, where social change is incubated. However, armed with this rule, even a faculty member who is part of a women’s collective or who writes a joint representation against gender based discrimination could be treated as guilty of misconduct, in its being contrary to a conservative university administration’s ideas of morality or decency. The net result would be a chilling effect on free speech, and will deprive teachers of the means to alert the government and Parliament to violations of policies and laws by university administrations.
iv) Rule 10 bans teachers from giving any sort of public testimony and expert opinion in people’s tribunals, jan sunwais. Rule 10(1) states that “no employee shall except with the previous sanction of the University give evidence in connection with any inquiry conducted by any person, committee or authority”. Rule 10(2) makes it clear that even if sanction is obtained, it will be only for evidence or opinion that is not critical of the government. Rule 11 prohibits faculty from sharing unauthorized information with other colleagues and the public except when ordered to do so, or when the information is shared in good faith to discharge duties. Rule 12 prohibits faculty from raising funds, ask or accept subscriptions to funds or associate with fund raising in cash or kind for any object whatsoever.
These, and other clauses in the CCS rules, will allow for an official construal of the historical role that university academics have played in society, as concerned citizens and public intellectuals, as ‘misconduct. Universities are a part of society — speaking up and acting for justice, reform, democratisation, and change is the role that academics must play if they are to give back to the society that created a space for learning, critique and the imagination.
As Visitor of all Central Universities, I therefore appeal to you to not give your assent to any Ordinances, Statutes or Regulations made by any Central University which invokes these rules, directly or by implication, and to instruct the UGC-MHRD to withdraw its May 1, 2018 letter immediately. Your intervention will be a decisive one in safeguarding the autonomous character of higher education and the democratic rights of teachers in Central Universities
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