Published: 30th December 2020
How the NCBC intervention in UoH admissions could set a important precedent in Indian education
In its investigation, the NCBC found that some students had gotten the highest marks in their entrance exams but had not been called for the interview or had been rendered ‘unsuitable’ for the seat
On November 12, the National Commission for Backward Classes held its first public hearing at a Central University to address issues of discrimination against OBC students in the University of Hyderabad. The NCBC, in its report, recognised that there were pressing issues that the administration needed to ‘urgently’ address — the committee concluded that discrimination had taken place in the admission process, that OBC seats were going vacant and that results of the entrance exams were being withheld. While the University did address some of the issues, the NCBC recently sent notices to the administration earlier this week questioning why they had not yet ensured admission to some of the students whose cases have been validated. The All India OBC Students’ Association launched a hunger strike on campus last week to demand the same.
A saga of sordid selections?
In its investigation, the NCBC found that some students had gotten the highest marks in their entrance exams but had not been called for the interview or had been rendered ‘unsuitable’ for the seat. According to Kiran Gowd, the President of All India OBC Students’ Association, "several students" were called in for an interview after the intervention of the NCBC. One of those students was T Arun Ketan, who applied for a PhD seat six times over a period spanning three-and-a-half years. Speaking to Edex, Ketan said that all the six times he was ranked among the top five in the written test but when it came to the interview, he only got scores of 0, 1 or 2 on 30 marks. Despite 12 seats being available this year, only eight were called for the interview and Ketan didn’t figure in that list, Kiran said.
The teaching, non-teaching staff also joined the protests
Another student, Harshini Devi, was not called for the interview despite getting the requisite marks. In its report, the NCBC found that she was initially given 44 marks, a score that was suddenly changed to 43 marks. Not-so-strangely, candidates who had gotten 44 marks and above were called for the interview, the report said. The report said the candidate had been ‘personally targeted and deprived’ of the seat and even said that the University was ‘playing with the lives of students’.
In the case of another candidate, Adduri Mukteshwar, the NCBC found that here again, he had got the highest marks in the entrance exam. However, Adduri was not given required marks in the interview for allegedly ‘not having any research experience certificates and publications’. “He was placed as a meritorious candidate in the initial results was placed in the 11th rank due to some irrelevant documents,” the report said.
University says they've got nothing to hide
When we got in touch with the administration, the spokesperson said that the Commission had conducted the hearing not against a generic complaint about the admission policy but candidates with specific complaints. “We are not a new university, we are a well established one and we follow reservations to the T. So far, in all these days, we’ve never had complaints of violation in the reservation policy, nobody has filed any cases in court. Our admission reports are sent to the Academic Council and it goes all the way to the Parliament too. Even in this case, they can accuse us of violating the norms if an OBC seat went to somebody who didn’t belong to the community but here the seat was given to another OBC student only,” he said.
Speaking about one specific complaint, the spokesperson said that they were yet to make a decision on the issue but that they were within the 15 days time period that the NCBC had given them. “We put together a Dean’s Committee with the HODs of various departments who looked into the admission process of the department that the candidate applied to. The committee looked at two criteria — prior research experience and publications. They found that there was some violation of norms here, that’s why in the revised list, he was moved to the fourth position in the list. Now when there are candidates in the second and third ranks, how can we give a seat to the fourth on the list?” he questioned.
The University maintained that they had a university-level admission grievance committee where he claimed not even a single member dissented against the decision. “We are seeking some clarifications from the NCBC and will present our findings as well and then figure out what we can do.”
Did politics have a part to play here?
Ketan feels that his involvement in political movements is what kept him from getting a seat, “I was involved in the Telangana movement as well as the Student OBC movement which is why I was not given a seat. They just didn’t give me the marks, they would just say I’m not a suitable candidate which is not even an option. I calculated the marks I would have gotten for my proposals and taking into consideration all the other factors, I should have gotten a minimum of 10 but I only got single-digit marks. In January 2018, I was a topper and I got just one mark in the interview,” Ketan tells us. “There was another candidate who was an associate professor who also got similar marks. That’s when I thought it would be a good idea to approach the NCBC. So I collected all the evidence and wrote to the NCBC,” he said. When Ketan was given the seat, the credit was not given to the NCBC, at least not directly, “They just mentioned that there were some extra seats left, so they decided to give me one.”
Adduri attributes his denial of a seat to his active participation in the OBC Student Movement as well, "Baseless allegations were made about my publications.” But unlike Ketan, he hasn’t received a seat yet. The NCBC sent notices on December 12 again alerting the administration. The NCBC in its notice appreciated the administration for taking action on their notices but urged them to take action on the other issues as well.
One of the protesting students fainted during a hunger fast
The NCBC has been busy
In its November notice, the NCBC listed out seven issues under the ‘Most Urgent’ category and ten issues under ‘Urgent’. The urgent list included the cases of Ketan, Adduri, Harshini Devi and Pabbati Prema who was fighting for a seat in the MSc Plant Biology Department, a representation from the Students’ Union and the allegation of violation in reservation policy. The ‘urgent’ list included issues affecting teaching and non-teaching staff. This list included a complaint about decreasing salaries, difficulties faced by OBC staff, violation of reservation in OBC faculty appointments, demand for better implementation of OBC reservations and difficulties regarding OBC grants received by the administration.
In Adduri’s case, the NCBC made some scathing remarks, “Looking at other documents, the whole situation has been changed by the authorities bringing in some irrelevant documents into the admission processes and it appears there has been some high-end intervention of the other authorities in the process to irregularise the student list selected, maybe to favour or admit some other candidates in the PhD admissions.”
After the NCBC issued the notices, the UoH administration put together a task force to address some of the issues. “As of now, exactly one IMSc, two Masters, nearly 10 PhD candidates got admission after the major intervention of the NCBC. Every time we approach the University with these issues, they ask us to go to court. Everyone can’t go to court but bodies like the NCBC are thankfully taking proactive steps,” Kiran said. The scholar has been filing RTIs and bringing many issues regarding reservation violations and discrimination to the forefront. The NCBC’s intervention, as we mentioned earlier, was the first of its kind especially since their investigations led to results.
Ramesh Viswanathula, the legal advisor of the NCBC who has been part of the investigation says that since the hearing at UoH, the NCBC has been addressing issues at a wide range of universities almost immediately after. “Before I was even appointed, I knew that irregularities had been happening in LLM, LLB, medical and NALSAR admissions and that they were denying OBC reservations. There is a legal battle on but there are campuses in this country that don’t want to be fair about OBC reservations. The UGC has also largely been silent, which is why we decided it was important to take on the issues, directly with a public hearing,” he tells us. Ever since the Commission has been looking into DU, EFLU, Andhra University and Sri Venkateswara University as well.
“With all the evidence that the students had sent us, we saw that the University was not following guidelines. We approached the Vice-Chancellor and we gave the University the opportunity to rectify the problems. Candidates like Harshini Devi had managed 64 per cent, according to the norms, only 45 per cent is required for the interview, and she still wasn’t given a seat. Things like this cannot be happening,” he pointed out.
“In the case of Rakesh, a Physically Handicapped student, the administration said that they had filled only two seats when five were available. When we asked them why, they said they had just kept aside three. Why are they not filling seats that are already available? The administration does not seem to be following all the rules in place with regard to admissions,” Ramesh said.
Over the last seven days, the members of the AIOBCSA have been protesting along with non-teaching staff on campus demanding that the administration submit an action report to the NCBC and address all the other issues that the Commission brought up.
However, the administration states that they welcome recommendations and advice from statutory bodies like the NCBC, “If our procedures and processes can improve, then we are definitely open to hearing from bodies like the NCBC. We’ve not ignored any of their recommendations so far. We are open to speaking to OBC groups as well. If in any way we can improve the way we implement reservations, then we are ready to listen.”
When we asked Ketan if he really did think that he would end up getting an admission after so many years of trying, he said he had no choice but to hope that it would, “I did have evidence which is why I wrote to them. But of course, it felt good that it actually had an impact.”
But will the impact last? That is the question.