Guwahati, March 29: The alleged move of the State government to downgrade Assam Women’s University (AWU), Jorhat into a technical institute led to such a huge ruckus in the State Assembly on Thursday, with both the ruling party and the Congress resorting to charges and counter-charges, that Speaker Hitendra th Goswami was forced to reverse his ruling in order to bring about a semblance of order in the House. The government, however, assured the House that there was no intention to downgrade the university to any technical institute and that the university would rather be developed further by making an amendment to the university Act to remove the existing loopholes.
Students across the State have already taken to the streets demanding that the lone women’s university in the northeastern part of the country be treated fairly and not downgraded.
After the Question Hour, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi raised the issue and said State Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had brought out certain allegations against him on the issue of AWU that were not true. “Let me be given the scope in the House to make my clarification,” he said.
The Speaker agreed but did not allow Gogoi to speak on the matter on Thursday. “According to rules, I’ll not be able to allow you to make your clarification today. On April 4 and 5, there is a discussion on education in the Assembly, and there you can make your point. At the same time, the Education Minister is not present in the House now. I think any such discussion will be fruitful only when both of you are present,” he ruled.
This led to a commotion in the House, with the Congress MLAs demanding a discussion on issue and said Gogoi must be given a chance to clarify his position on Thursday itself. The BJP MLAs then countered, asking the Congress why it was going against the Speaker’s ruling. This was the trigger for a huge war of words between the two parties, leading to a total pandemonium in the House. The Congress protested heavily as it gathered at the well of the House, with the BJP too following the opposition party to the well.
In the meantime, Sarma entered the Assembly and told the Speaker that he was ready for any discussion on the women’s university issue. But the Speaker said he would not able to allow the discussion to take place on Thursday as he had already given the House his ruling. However, when the disorder continued for more than half an hour, he adjourned the House for 15 minutes.
When the session resumed, the same noisy scenes were witnessed even as the Speaker kept requesting the legislators to maintain the dignity and decorum of the House.
“As a Speaker, my role is impartial. So no one should raise any doubts over my ruling. All of us should rather move towards a solution to the problem of Assam Women’s University, forgetting other issues,” Goswami said.
He told Gogoi that the next discussion would be on sustaible development and requested the former chief minister to raise the issue in that discussion. But Gogoi refused, saying he will not raise the issue in the next discussion.
Ultimately, in order that the House could be run smoothly, the Speaker again sought help from the House so that there was order. At that time, Sarma requested him that since he was ready with his answers, Gogoi should be allowed to speak and then he would respond. At the same time, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary also requested the Speaker to allow both sides to present their views. The Speaker then said, “Paying a heed to what you all have said, I reconsider my ruling and you may raise the issue from your respective sides.”
Gogoi then stood up and said, “Sarma has brought out an allegation against me saying there was no system of appointing mentor at Assam Women’s university. Whatever I did, it was in accordance with the procedure, to which even the UGC did not object. If I was wrong at that time, why did not the new government, sworn in 2016, raise the issue then? Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal did not have any issues with my appointment of mentor. After coming to power, he visited the university, put new members in the university board, sanctioned 105 posts, and asked the university to introduce new subjects. If he has no objections, why is the Education Minister making an issue out of it?”
On his part, Sarma countered, “In the Act of the women’s university, there is no mention of any ‘mentor’. Gogoi appointed a mentor for the university, instead of a vice chancellor, by going against the Act. He also called a meeting at Jorhat Circuit House on June 1, 2014 regarding the university’s affairs, in which some important decisions were taken, such as appointment of VC and professors on an ad hoc basis, including an announcement that Rs 150 crore would be granted to the university. But the education minister of that time and high-level officials of the education department were completely kept in the dark as the meeting was held.”
Making it clear that not a single rupee out of the Rs 150 crore as announced went to the university, Sarma further said, “Not a single penny went to the university. It is only now that Gogoi is raising a hue and cry over the issue. Now tell me what we should do with the university. If we regularize the posts of teachers, those working on an ad hoc basis will lose their jobs. Secondly, in the absence of a VC, a degree has no value. What to do with the degrees of such students? To resolve all these issues, the university should be allowed to function smoothly and there is need for amending its Act. If the Speaker and the House allow me, in the next session, I’ll come with an amendment to resolve the issue. The university will not be downgraded.”