HRD Ministry is looking to examine if DU can be brought under ESMA. If implemented, teachers can face arrest or fine if they participate in protests.
New Delhi: After Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, the Modi government is planning to use the stringent Essential Services Maintenance Act 1968 (ESMA) to check dissent by central university teachers. And Delhi University could be its first target.
ESMA is invoked so that essential services such as public transport, health and sanitation are not affected during strikes. If implemented, Delhi University teachers may face severe action, including arrest or fine, if they participate in any protest.
Through a letter sent on 4 October, the Ministry of Human Resource Development directed that a committee be set up to examine the feasibility of bringing exam/teaching/learning/evaluation in the university under ESMA.
The committee, which is supposed to amend the Delhi University Act and include provisions of ESMA in it, has been asked to submit its report within 30 days.
‘It’s an attack’
The move comes four months after the University Grants Commission (UGC) wrote a letter asking central universities to adopt Central Civil Services (CCS) (Conduct) Rules, which bar a government of India employee from expressing his/her views on a platform that is critical of the government or participating in any protest.
While many universities are in the process of adopting this rule, Delhi University has not shown any interest in it, something that is believed to have prompted the Central government to issue this latest diktat.
“MHRD’s new order is an attack on the very idea of university itself. It’s an attack on debate, discussion, the spirit of enquiry and scholarship,” said Aditya Narayan Mishra, former president of Federation of Central University Teachers’ Association (FEDCUTA).
ESMA a stringent law
Under ESMA Clause (VIII), anybody can be arrested “for instigation” even “without warrant”.
Clause (V) of ESMA states clearly that such an Act “shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees or both”.
Delhi University, which was established through an Act of Parliament 1922, is governed by its own statutes and ordinances, said Prof. J.L. Jain of DU.
“Now, at the behest of private players, the MHRD-UGC has constituted a hand-picked rapid action working group to change the DU Act,” Jain said.
In March, the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh had invoked ESMA to ban all kinds of protest by employees and teachers in state universities.