Mumbai: The University of Mumbai (MU), in a drastic move, has decided to scrap the entire electoral roll of its senate election and carry out the voter registration process anew.
The decision came on Wednesday (October 25), the deadline fixed by the Bombay High Court (HC) to resume the election process. The decision followed an investigation by a three-member panel, which found that MU had made Aadhaar mandatory for voter registrations, even though there was no such provision in the rules for senate elections. However, as reported by FPJ on Wednesday, the panel did not find any merit in the complaint about the presence of a large number of duplicate entries in the voter list.
The senate is the university’s top statutory body and is responsible for approving its annual budget and perspective plan, among other duties. MU has been functioning without a full-fledged senate for around the past one year after the term of previous body came to an end in September 2022.
MU had set up an inquiry committee in August
The inquiry committee was set up by MU in August to probe alleged irregularities in the voter enrolment process for the registered graduates’ constituency of the senate, following complaints by BJP MLA Ashish Shelar and Vidyapeeth Vikas Manch (VVM), a front of BJP-allied student organisation Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). The varsity had also indefinitely suspended the election, as directed by the state government.
In his complaint letter to Education Minister Chandrakant Patil, Shelar had alleged that there were more than 755 instances of duplication or even triplication in the voter list bearing 94,162 names. He also claimed that many names were suspiciously added and removed from the final list published by the varsity.
The committee, in its probe, did find 756 names apparently repeated in the list, but an examination of their documents and other information revealed them to be different persons. In the course of the inquiry, the university had a relook at its scrutiny process for accepting and rejecting voter applications and brought down the number of entries in the electoral roll to 90,224 after eliminating several names and adding a few that were rejected earlier.
The panel, however, based its recommendation for redoing the entire voter registration process on the fact that the university, among other documents, had asked for the applicants’ Aadhaar and photograph. This, according to the panel, violated the provisions of the common statutes (by-laws) for Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016, which only required the graduating certificate and address proof. It deprived those who didn't have Aadhaar from participating in the electoral process, read the inquiry report.
“The university had rejected many of the applications who had issues with their Aadhaar, while some people may not have applied at all due to the Aadhaar mandate... There might be other issues in scrutinising the rest of the applications. Hence, it was recommended to redo the whole process,” said a person involved with the investigation.
The university has now opened a month-long window from October 30 to November 30 to carry out the fresh registrations. The remaining election schedule is yet to be declared.
Student leader to move court
MU’s unprecedented decision has drawn sharp reactions from student leaders, who have accused the varsity of acting under political pressure to further push an already-delayed election. Sagar Devre, an aspiring candidate for the senate who had challenged the suspension of the election in the HC, plans to move the court again. “The committee was only required to look into the complaints, which were proven to be false. In its affidavit, the university clearly stated that they have already scrutinised the names other than those that were disputed. So what's the need to make the people go through the hassle of registering again,” he said.
He added, “We are moving an Interim Application on Thursday to challenge the new enrolment process. As per HC on October 10, the university has to declare an election schedule. This is a clear contempt of the court. The election is already delayed by one year. This is clear that MU is under pressure of the state government and there is political interference in educational institutions.”
Santosh Gangurde, state chief organiser, Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthi Sena, said, “Any election process is a festive celebration of democracy. We are well equipped and ready for the senate election whenever it us going to be held. However, the university administration has made a mockery of the election process.”
File a criminal case against Shiv Sena (UBT) for tampering with list, Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar demanded