Insight 18.1: A GBM That Isn’t
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“But I always say, one’s a company, two’s a crowd and three’s a GBM.”
– A. Muk-E-Kar
“There are lies, damned lies and ‘initiatives’.”
– Satish Bhaiyya
With midterm council reviews to be scheduled soon, the GBMs are still reminiscent of a joke that’s been played on for too long to be funny anymore. I, for one, would vouch for the fact that we, as a community, don’t care. With an attendance of whoever just happened to walk into the venue, the apathy of the student community does make a compelling case against the very need of conducting this exercise.
From the SAC Constitution
Yes, there’s a SAC constitution. GBMs were envisioned as a check on the working of elected student representatives by tabling discussions on the work done by them during their tenure and conveying grievances to be redressed later. So, from the time the tenure of an elected Gymkhana representative begins up to the time of dissolution of the Body, the SAC President (DoSA being the ex-officio SAC President) chairs the General Body. The Director appoints a Chairman (Sports) and a Chairman (Culturals) to preside over the councils. Student bodies like SARC, Insight, Mood Indigo, Techfest, etc. have a Faculty-in-Charge allotted to them to oversee their working.
- The Chairman (Sports/Cultural) or the concerned Faculty-In-Charge and all the members of the concerned council are members of the General Body. The concerned council student head is the Vice-Chairman of the GBM. The President, in consultation with the respective head of the council, will appoint an Institute General Secretary as the moderator for the GBM.
- If a hostel fails to send at least 3 nominees for each GBM, then 5% of maximum attainable points shall be deducted from that hostel’s tally in all the Inter Hostel General Championships (for all councils barring the Academic Council).
- In case of the Institute Academic Council (UG), 6 Nominees from each UG department are also members of the General Body. It is mandatory for the Department General Secretaries to send at least 3 (1 in case of PG) nominees for the GBM. At the start of each GBM, the Hostel Nominees shall present their credentials to the Chairman of the GBM along with a letter of introduction from their respective Hostel General Secretaries.
- Quorum for a GBM is 50% of the total number of members. In the event the quorum being not met, the meeting ceases to have the standing of a General Body Meeting.
- Any student of IITB can attend a GBM, but only a member can vote in case a motion is tabled.
How rigorously these are followed is a matter of concern, though. With the instance of a quorum being met an exception rather than a norm, one might say biometric attendance for the office bearers and the nominees is probably the way forward. Also, with the number of Hostel and Department General Secretaries who are either unaware of their responsibilities during a GBM or just apathetic and the absence of nominees rampant, the very utility of the half-yearly exercise is debatable.
The bane of all elected representatives is the one thing that can depose them. It is rare for such a motion to be tabled in a GBM, as it should be, but more often the reason being that the final say in such matters lies with an authority who isn’t part of the student community – the SAC President. This, coupled with the lack of quora in most cases, makes impeachment extremely difficult, if not impossible. Again, drawing verbatim from the SAC constitution:
Impeachment proceedings can take place in a GBM or in an E-GBM (Emergency GBM) with the following procedure:
(a) A member tables the motion.
(b) The Chair allows the motion to proceed.
(c) At least 12 members second. These 12 members should be from at least 4 Hostels/Departments (8 for PG Academic Council).
(d) The council member is asked to defend himself/herself.
(e) A secret ballot is taken and the motion is passed. For an impeachment, the required majority is two-thirds of the members present and voting, or 50% of the maximum strength, whichever is greater.
The general apathy of the students once the candidates are elected make the powers of these elected representatives virtually absolute.
GBM: Institute vs Hostels
Most hostel councils have resorted to following the institute model with regards to the council structure and the conduct of General Body Meetings of their own, albeit following their own constitution, approved by their Warden. As hard an irony as it is, it’s seen that the general level of participation and enthusiasm in case of hostel GBMs is actually higher. This can be attributed to the natural human propensity to attend an event taking place in one’s own backyard, rather than an ill-publicised one being held outside. Further, the lack of strictness in the implementation of the rule regarding hostels sending their nominees to institute GBMs doesn’t help either. Hostel council GBMs, often known for intense criticism of the council’s work, with suspensions and impeachments being much more common, are in stark contrast to the Institute level GBMs taking place in empty halls. Though the hostel GBMs sometimes become a forum for frustrated “seniors” to flame sophomores rather than constructive criticism, their effectiveness in instilling an urgency with respect to responsibilities is beyond question.
The students’ side of it
With the general sentiment of apathy displayed by the student community towards GBMs, it would be unfair to blame the representatives for not taking the meetings seriously. With elections becoming more competitive by the year and the pressure on candidates to come up with new “initiatives” when the ones in the pipeline are not yet fulfilled, the manifestos, more often than not, include many points they themselves know they couldn’t possibly fulfil. There is only so much filtering the “Blackbox” (a group from the Election Committee appointed to check the feasibility of manifestos) can do. This mounting of pressure on candidates has given rise to a rather unfortunate trend of elected representatives demolishing the existing state of affairs and starting from scratch rather than building on the work done by the last holder of office. This, for example, has been the case with the Academic Council’s schemes to promote UG research, where, according to a former coordinator, little improvement has been seen. “In 2012, the program ran exceptionally well, under the name SPUR. The next year though, under a different GSAA, the name was changed to EnPOWER, which came across as a rather unnecessary move, seeing that what it aimed to accomplish was the same thing. This was probably done so that it would be counted under initiatives. Suffice to say, the program saw a huge decline in quality,” he said. Such tussles are common. This backward-forward march has resulted in manifestos being taken for granted and the community losing faith in the office itself.
When all’s said and done, the fact remains that the newly elected candidates for the year have taken office and begun their tenure. With these representatives, we chose our voices in discussions that matter. Though many would still rather want to stay away from the electoral process, they’d never cease to be involved in the process of living the consequences of a choice they didn’t make.