Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar on Friday appealed to protesting students to call off their agitation. The students have been protesting against the recent fee hikes for the hostels and mess.

In a letter to the students, Kumar wrote that dialogue between the students and the faculty “cannot be dictated through coercion and illegal methods”. “JNU administration would always like to engage in a dialogue and discussion, but the process and form of any such interaction cannot be dictated through coercion and illegal methods,” he wrote. “No dialogue in this form will be fruitful.”

On Wednesday, the university’s executive council decided to partially roll back the fee hikes. According to the revised charges, the room rent for a single-seater room will be Rs 200 and occupants of a double-seater will be Rs 100. Students will have to pay Rs 5,500 as the caution deposit for the hostel mess. However, service charges of Rs 1,700, which was introduced in the draft hostel manual, will continue to be levied.

In a meeting on October 28, the university authorities had reportedly decided to raise the rent for a single-seater room in the hostel from Rs 20 per month to Rs 600. The amount for a double-seater room was increased to Rs 300 from Rs 10 per month. The one-time refundable security deposit for the hostel mess was raised from Rs 5,500 to Rs 12,000.

The students had rejected the partial rollback in fees, calling it an eyewash. Former Jawaharlal Nehru Students Union President N Sai Balaji claimed that “95% of the fee hike remains”.

On Friday, the vice chancellor requested the faculty to make an “extra effort” to convince the students that the changes in hostel fees were not only reasonable but “vital for the financial viability of our hostels”. “It is our duty and responsibility to keep JNU on the path of becoming a globally renowned university for which peace and normalcy have to be restored in the campus,” Kumar added.

Kumar said the college has taken an “extremely grim view” of the “condemnable and reprehensible” behaviour of the students “and their mentors”, ANI reported. He said the protests are affecting the studies of thousands of students on the campus who are preparing for their end-semester exams.

JNU considering legal action against students

Meanwhile, posters reading “No to fee hike” and walls with slogans like “Reject Hostel Manual” have been pasted on the walls of the administrative block of the university on Friday, ANI reported.

A university official said that the administration is considering taking legal action against 10 students who allegedly defaced and vandalised the college’s property, The Indian Express reported. “We have identified some students through reports and evidence received from the security office,” he said. “We are discussing how we should proceed. There could be more students involved, which we will ascertain after receiving all information.”

Apart from walls, the students also allegedly defaced a platform on which a yet-to-be-unveiled statue of Swami Vivekananda stands, the newspaper reported. On Wednesday, some students had entered the administrative block and allegedly painted messages on Kumar’s office door. Such messages were also painted at the rector’s and registrar’s office.

“Vandalising Swami Vivekananda statue at JNU admin block, which is yet to be unveiled, is the most despicable act one can commit,” the vice chancellor said. “Swami Vivekananda is India’s youth icon. Disrespecting him in our university by some miscreants is not at all acceptable.”

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s youth wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, condemned the vandalism. “We condemn this. This is taking the movement for the fee hike in the wrong direction,” the ABVP said, blaming the Left-led JNU Students Union. But the students union claimed that the vandalism was a “conspiracy by right-wing forces to defame the university and its democratic culture” and divert attention from the fee hike matter.

The protests

Protests had escalated on Monday with the Delhi Police using water cannons to disperse agitating students. The students, who had called for the protest on Sunday, tried to march towards the auditorium where the university was holding its convocation ceremony, with Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu as the chief guest. Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal was stuck inside the JNU convocation venue for over six hours as protests escalated.

The university administration has said that it incurred bills of Rs 10 crore per annum on water, electricity, and service charges. The registrar had said in a statement recently that the management was making the payments out of the general funds that it received from the University of Grants Commission. The university also argued that it had not raised the fee in the last 19 years.