Why does the Modi Sarkar want to stymie AMU’s Off Campus Centres?

I distinctly remember the fierce debate when proposal of off campus Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Centres was first mooted by the Ministry for Human Resources Development (MHRD). Out of the university fraternity some opined them illegal, some considered legal but unfeasible; and rest perfectly intune with the sugegstion. The then University Vice Chancellor (VC) Naseem Ahmad rejected the idea initially but the next VC professor Azis placed it before University authorities and got their endorsement.
The story starts in 2002 when the then chief minister (CM) of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh as the Chief Guest in the Sir Sayyed’s Day function on October 17 put up a proposal of establishing off campus centres. Mr. Singh also offered 100 Acres of land for this purpose to the Gharib Nawaz Foundation (GNF). The Secretary of GNF visited AMU and met with the VC in 2003 and then GNF submitted its proposal of a second campus of AMU to Arjun Singh, Union HRD Minister.
The UGC on January 28, 2005 wrote a letter to the GNF informing them that it has asked AMU to submit a proposal. On March 13, 2005 the GNF again reminded Arjun Singh about the AMU off campus centres and requested him to “promulgate an ordinance in order to expedite the process as a first step in this direction” (Copies were of course sent to the VC, AMU). The Under Secretary MHRD wrote a letter to UGC on April 21, 2005 on the same lines and then on August 28, 2006 the Deputy Secretary, MHRD, wrote to the VC, complaining about the delays and suggested that the said Study Centres be established under section 12(2) of the AMU Act.
The story does not end here. In 2007, the Belgachia Education Trust (BET) through the then chief minister of West Bengal also requested the PM to establish an institution in WB on the model of AMU at Murshidabad. The MHRD then wrote to the AMU to establish a centre u/s 12(2) of the AMU Act. In view of no affirmative response by the then Registrar, the MHRD in June 2007 reprimanded him repeatedly.
The initial concept of centres in minority dominated areas was a very attractive idea, since it was a step towards the fulfillment of Sir Sayyed’s dream of furtherance of education among Muslims. However, the moment the above details came to light, there were a surge of queries, doubts, apprehensions and a sense of uneasiness that besieged people’s mind.
The most obvious questions/ action (s) was and is the requests of private trusts to promulgate an Ordinance! Who is this GNF and what locus did or does it possess ? If equipped with the professional potential why does it not establish a deemed University on its own? This and what was seen as arm twisting actions of the MHRD.
The University, the AMU, has virtually become caught, sandwiched as it were, in this tussle. First, we were pressed to establish them and now the same MHRD is bent upon closing them down! The initial financial proposal was of Rs. 1400 crores for the Malappuram and Murshidabad Centres; only Rs. 349.55 crores was sanctioned in theTwelfth Five Year plan by the UPA government. To date only Rs. 130 Crore of this has been released. There is only one more year left of this plan period and clearly, the present government is in no mood to give anything more.
Section 5(9A) of AMU (Amendment) Act, 1972 provides that the “University shall have power to establish within a radius of twenty five kilometers of the University Mosque such special Centres, specialized Laboratories or other units for research and instruction as are, in the opinion of the University, necessary for the furtherance of its objects”. While section 12 (2) of AMU (Amendment) Act, 1951 confirms that the University may also, with the sanction of the Visitor and subject to the Statutes and Ordinances, establish and maintain such Special Centres, Specialised Laboratories or such other institutions for research or instruction as are necessary for the furtherance of its objects either on its own or in cooperation or collaboration with any other institution.
Reading section 5(9A) with section 12 (2) provides that establishment of Centers subject to approval of the Visitor is legally permissible, since sec 12 (2) was enacted in 1951, while sec 5(9A) was subsequently incorporated in 1972, which empowers the University to establish Centers without Visitor’s approval but within a radius of twenty five kilometers of the University Mosque. These two sections are therefore not contradictory and for the same reason 12 (2) was not struck down when 5(9A) was incorporated in 1972. Nevertheless no such centers could be legalised without framing necessary statutes and ordinances vide statutes 23(2), 28(6) and 29(1), which the university did in the mean time.
The Preamble of the AMU Act of 1920 provides “An Act to incorporate a Teaching and Residential Muslim University at Aligarh”, the debate on residential character of the institution as per the preamble of the Act can only be decided by studying the all important question whether the Preamble is a part of the Constitution of India or not.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India sets out the guiding purpose and principles of the document. For some time it was assumed that like the preamble of a statute, the preamble is not an integral part of the Indian Constitution, however, Kesavanada Bharati Case created a history and for the first time, Supreme Court has recognised that the Preamble to the Constitution of India is an integral part of the Constitution,  Preamble is not a source of power nor a source of limitations and Preamble has a significant role to play in the interpretation of statues, also in the interpretation of provisions of the Constitution. The inference drawn is that residential character is a part of the Act but not absolute and there is certainly no ambiguity in the establishment of campuses/ Centers and this is perhaps the reason that hostel is not compulsory for the students since its inception and therefore provision of nonresident students does exist.
The President of India as the Visitor of the University accorded approval for the establishment of these Centres under Section 12(2) of the University Act. The Allahabad High Court through a bench comprising then Chief Justice F. I. Rebello and Justice A. P. Sahi dismissed a writ petition challenging the decision to establish two new centres of AMU at Malappuram and Murshidabad, since the same was duly approved by the President of India as the Visitor of the University. The Kerala High Court bench comprising Chief Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice P.N. Ravindran had earlier rejected the prayer for interim relief against the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University centre in Kerala.
The MAO College at the time of its establishment in 1877 by Sir Sayyed possessed only 78 acres of land which has now expanded to more than a thousand acres; almost another thousand acres of land is now further gifted by the respective states of Kerala, Bihar and West Bengal, which is a big leap forward. Still the full benefits of such Centers to the community may be far from reality in the absence of restoration of Minority status of the University, currently pending before the Supreme Court. Whatever service AMU has been rendering to the community, the same services these Centers are sought to be doing.
The AMU is always a victim of the politics be it at the hand of the Congress or the BJP, with different emphasis, but same results. First, it was the Congress through M.C. Chagla and professor Nurul Hasan and now it is the BJP through Smriti Irani. How pitiable it is, that a Cabinet minister of HRD, Ms Irani is so totally ignorant about the history of the creation/establihsment of these Centres and through a shallow understanding, is pinning blame on the present VC, Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah. Mr Shah also happens to be a former soldier and veteran of many a battle. The ultimate victim is the same, however: the underprivileged AMU despite the University being ranked second among Indian Universities.
Ms Irani is not speaking on her own rather it is the words of others in her mouth. The unfortunate reality is that there are some within Aligarians who are misguiding the MHRD. Earlier it was some of these elements with the BJP/RSS who were opposing these Centres; now being at the helm the BJP/RSS is furthering its own agenda. One thing is however clear: all those opposing Centres today are on the side of communal forces.
(The writer is professor of Enviromental Engineering at the Z.H. Z. H. College of Engineering & Technology, Aligarh)



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