UGC task force report on campus security out

The report of the University Grants Commission (UGC) task force on reviewing security measures in educational institutions is now out. The 250-page report of the 10-member task force, set up in December 2012 after the gang-rape of a girl in New Delhi caused nationwide outrage, was released on February 12. UGC Chairman Ved Prakash, in a letter dated February 18, has written to all UGC-funded and non-funded higher educational institutions to implement the recommendations of the report.

Titled ‘Saksham’, the report suggests basic infrastructure requirements such as lighting and public transport, while also recommending counselling services and gender sensitisation. Significantly, the report also says the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), in its assessment and accreditation procedures, “must build in an essential gender audit component as part of the evaluation process.”

While the University of Pune, with 800 affiliated colleges, has already announced that the recommendations will be implemented, Bangalore University (BU), which was in the eye of a storm after a student was allegedly gang-raped on its vast, densely wooded Jnanabharathi campus in October 2012, appears to be lagging behind. While the varsity, with over 600 affiliated institutions, had announced soon after the incident that CCTV cameras would be installed on campus, this is yet to see the light of day.

BU Vice-Chancellor B. Thimme Gowda told The Hindu that the delay in installation of CCTVs was due to the delay in laying of optical fibre cables for the control room. “This will cost nearly Rs. 2 crore. We are calling for tenders,” he said.

Among the only concrete steps that the varsity has taken to ensure safety of its students is the ‘Sensitisation, Prevention and Redressal of Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination (SPARSH and GD) policy’, which promises action within 30 days from the day of the complaint against the guilty. The policy specifies that the committee to which complaints will be addressed will consist of at least 50 per cent women, and prescribes formation of complaint committees at three levels — affiliated colleges (College Complaints Committee), university (University Units Complaints Committee) and Apex Complaints Committee.

While Prof. Gowda said the UGC report was yet to reach him, the task force’s major recommendations include institutionalising counselling services (the report says regular faculty doubling up as counsellors and part-time arrangements should be replaced with well-trained, full-time counsellors).

Infrastructure-wise, the report says, “According to feedback received, many higher education institutions (HEIs), including large campuses, have a deficit in lighting and are experienced as unsafe by students. Students should be encouraged to undertake a mapping of the spaces in and around their campuses in terms of lighting.”

Another important aspect is of security, which the task force report says should not lead to a ‘securitisation approach to combating sexual harassment.’ “A common complaint from students has to do with security. Adequate and well-trained security including a good balance of women security staff is necessary. Security must receive gender sensitisation training apart from other conditions of service,” the report says.

In a blow to BU, which has announced the withdrawal of its transport for the coming academic year, the report also says, “Many HEIs suffer from lack of reliable public transport. This includes lack of transport within large campuses between different sections of the university, especially hostels, libraries, laboratories and main buildings, and secondly, colleges that do not have good access for day scholars. Lack of safety as well as harassment is exacerbated when students cannot depend on safe public transport. Shuttle buses must be provided to enable students to work late in libraries and laboratories and to attend programmes in the evenings.”

Discriminatory rules

Apart from inadequate toilets for women, insufficient accommodation and crowding are also dealt with. Another major problem tackled in the report is the ‘differential timings and codes of behaviour for women hostellers’. “It has come to the notice of the task force that after the December 2012 rape incident, many HEIs responded by making their timings and rules for women stricter and more discriminatory than before. It must be reiterated that discriminatory timings and other forms of constraining women are not valid or acceptable ways of keeping women safe. Concern for the safety of women should not lead to stricter discriminatory rules in the hostels.”

It may be recalled that there was furore in the National Law School of India University when the varsity barred students from going into or out of the campus after 9 p.m. and before 6 a.m.