Too closed for comfort: The Student Representative system
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The position of a General Secretary in the institute is considered to be that of power and prestige. At the level of policy-making in the institute, most decisions are taken with due recommendations from the respective GSec who acts as a messiah between the administration and students.
The process of electing a GSec is a democratic one with the student electorate calling the shots. However at the election stage, the situation may become turbulent and thereafter snowball into any or all of the following: an indifferent electorate, a gap between students and authorities or even an unsatisfactory tenure.
A survey was conducted in the institute to gauge the effectiveness of this system as perceived by the students.
The GSecs Speak
It’s not that General Secretaries fail in getting their work done. They too face difficulties in implementing their manifesto points. It’s always important to know the other side of the story. We asked Pankaj Kabira, General Secretary Academic Affairs, PG and Sahil Dhingra, General Secretary Sports Affairs about their views and the difficulties that a G.Sec faces in fulfilling their promises.
Pankaj Kabira– General Seceratary, Academic Affairs (PG)
“I think in order to win elections, G.Sec candidates usually make unrealistic promises which at times are very difficult to be accomplished. Such promises usually create a USP during the elections. But after winning the elections, even if the G.Sec tries his level best, (s)he is not able to complete some of these promises. These incomplete promises are again seen in the manifesto points of the next G.Sec candidate.
In many student councils, institute secretaries are elected where they have their own initiatives which may or may not overlap with those of the G.Sec. Further, in case of insufficient work done by the secretaries, it becomes difficult for the G.Sec. to impeach him/her. Thus, it’s the institute’s people who are at loss.’
Institute policies are really very demotivating for the GSes. Usually when we float a form on student notices, we give students a 3-5 days deadline. When we want to implement something, institute gives us a 3-5 weeks deadline and work is eventually completed after 3-5 months. At times, our agenda points are simply countered by functionaries on basis of their power. Agenda points must be weighed on logical arguments, rather than simple veto power of institute functionaries.
Students representatives’ views must be weighed logically during meeting of institute functionaries and student representatives. Institute functionaries should also be answerable to students over any particular decision. Some decision should not be taken just because institute functionaries want to take it.”
Sahil Dhingra-General Seceratary, Sports
“Infrastructure is the biggest problem we face. Even if we plan to renovate something in SAC premises, estate office takes lot of time to complete it. We have to ask them repeatedly to do the work. Such tasks, on an average, usually take around three to four months to complete. This affects the overall planning of events as we then have to schedule it as per the working of the estate office.
The second major hurdle is getting approval for events. Currently, for sports, the approval process is offline with the process form being signed by the Sports Officer, SAC in-charge, Sports Chairman and then finally by Dean SA. If even one of them on the approval-chain is on leave, the form gets waitlisted causing frequent delays. I would suggest approval process should be made online as online is always a better option. Not to forget, budget constraints are always there.”
An alternative system – IIT Madras
Unlike the council structure at IIT Bombay, the system adopted by IIT Madras resembles the Indian parliamentary system.
The institute level student government consists of two major branches, the executive and the legislature. The executive branch comprises of nine major council members, the coordinating member being the General Secretary, who coordinates the institute’s overall affairs. The eight other members are designated various portfolios like academic affairs, international and alumni affairs, etc.
The legislative branch, on the other hand, is completely separate from the executive and is called the Student Legislative Council (SLC). The members of the SLC are elected by constituents, which are the different hostels and departments. Every hostel has one legislator, while every department has two legislators, one undergraduate and one postgraduate with additional M.Tech. legislators wherever they are under-represented. This brings the number of legislators to about 46. The constituencies elect their representatives, and every individual has dual representation, vis a vis their hostel legislator as well as their department legislator.
The legislative house – the student parliament – meets once every two or three weeks (as decided by the head of chairman of the house, the Speaker). The agendas include the passing of bills as proposed by the executive branch, or effecting policy changes. The decisions are taken by putting them to a vote. There is no faculty or administrative representation in the house.
The representatives of the executive branch also attend the proceedings, without the power to vote on decision-making. However, they get a veto to overturn the parliament’s decision if there is a three-fourth majority among them. The parliament, in turn, can overturn the veto if they can come to a two-third majority.
The decisions taken by the student parliament are then sent for the Senate’s deliberation, which are then implemented on approval. According to Aroon Narayanan, former speaker of the IITM student parliament, the Senate seldom rejects or interferes in the student parliament’s proposals. Some of the recent parliamentary proposals approved by the senate are reversing the LAN ban, and allowing the students to redo courses they want to improve their grades for.
On the hostel level, however, there is no legislative branch of government. There is one General Secretary for the hostel, augmented by six secretaries, each handling a different area of concern for the hostel. These posts are all elected by the students of the respective hostels.
On the department level, the Branch Councillor heads the team of representatives. The team consists of members of the batchwise class committees – elected by every batch – along with a few unelected members directly appointed by the branch councillor. The branch councillor has the responsibility of writing a charter for his team’s tenure, which needs to be approved in a General Body Meeting.
In Aroon’s opinion, the executive branch functions extremely well. It is, however, the legislative branch that escapes the student community’s sympathy. The function of the legislative branch involves more long-term aspects than their executive counterpart.
There are aspects of IIT-M’s system that offer significant advantages over the present system at IIT-B, and allow the students to be ‘represented’ in the right sense of the word at a level where major policy decisions are made. There are also inter-disciplinary synergies that come into play, by virtue of the system requiring an overall cooperation of student representatives rather than them being limited to their areas of interest.