What is the issue?
As of today, Hostel Elections for the academic year 2018-19 have not been notified by the Student Election Commission (the organization charged by the Students’ Constitution to conduct elections) and it seems likely that hostel elections shall be conducted only in mid-August 2018. The potential ramifications of this move are numerous, and the manner in which the decision to postpone the elections was taken raises many important questions. Varun Sridhar, Venkataraman Ganesh, and Kaushik Viswanath report.
Who conducts the elections?
In 2015, the responsibility of conducting student elections in the institute was transferred from the Speaker of the Student Legislative Council (SLC) to a body called the Student Election Commission (SEC). A three-member student team was to conduct the elections under the guidance and support of the Chief Election Officer and the Deputy Election Officer, and after some confusion, the student members of the newly formed Student Ethics and Constitutional Commission (SECC) were given the mandate to conduct the elections under the banner of the Student Election Commission (SEC) starting from the 2017-18 academic year.
The members of the Student Election Commission (SEC) 2017-18 are:
- Prof. Benny Raphael, Chief Election Officer (CEO)
- Prof. Thyagaraj T, Deputy Election Officer (DEO)
- The three student members of the Student Ethics and Constitutional Commission (SECC). As of today, the SECC has only one student member – YVV Aditya, (EP14). Reported lack of communication between the admin and SECC led to the two remaining posts remaining vacant for a considerable amount of time. Selections for the two posts have now been completed — one has been sent to the SLC for ratification, but the other candidate has reportedly been rejected by the Dean (Students) because the candidate is not a postgraduate student (reportedly to promote diversity, despite no such provision existing in the Students’ Constitution).
An analogy: This is like a Saarang Core candidate’s confirmation being blocked by the Dean (Students) despite having been selected by the CulSecs and Cultural Advisor because he doesn’t happen to be a postgraduate student.
Why are the elections being postponed?
The system in insti till date: Until 2016, every student in a hostel at the time of elections had the right to vote in the elections in his/her hostel. However in an emergency meeting in 2017 chaired by the Dean (Students), and attended by the Chief Election Officer, Executive Council, SEC, and SLC legislators: the student representatives accepted the Dean (Students)’ demand to exclude final year students from their hostels’ electorates and include incoming 1st year students (from freshie hostels).
However, the proposal by the Dean (Students) to permanently postpone all hostel elections to the following odd semester was opposed by the student representatives. Finally, as a compromise, the student representatives agreed to postpone elections in seven hostels (three freshie hostels and four tower hostels) that expected to see the greatest flux in residents, on a one-off basis, given that it was promised that it will not become a permanent feature in hostel elections.
What is happening this year? Due to an admin delay in releasing the hostel re-allocation list for freshies and some PG batches, and the room crunch that insti is facing, the SEC postponed hostel elections to next semester, as the delays have led to unconfirmed electorates in many hostels.
The SEC was late in pushing the admin to finalise the allocation list as the SEC mistakenly thought that the Litsoc allocation list was the final hostel allocation list. Once they realized their error in mid-January, Prof. Benny, Prof. Thyagaraj and Aditya pressured the admin to share the final allocation list. The admin couldn’t prepare the list by the deadline for the election notification, and so the notification was released without hostel elections.
At this time, we are not aware of the reasons for the administration’s delay and when the final hostel allocation will be done. We are also not aware of the reason why the LitSoc allocation list (which was made after looking at room capacities) is not the final allocation list. We also don’t know why the elections could not have been postponed by a few weeks, by which time the administration could come up with an allocation list. Furthermore, we do not know why the administration has not been able to prepare the list till date despite being informed about the need for the same more than a month ago. Given that the list was prepared last year on time, the delay in making the same this year is curious.
YVV Aditya told us that he and the SECC came to the current decision after considering many other ways to have elections that would minimise the disruption to institute activities.
Is this decision legal or democratic?
Prima facie, it does not appear as if this decision is constitutional. Concerns also exist about the manner in which this decision was taken.
1. Unconstitutional: The chapter on institute elections (Chapter 8, Section 5, Clause 18) in the latest version of the Constitution available on smail clearly states that elections to department, hostel and institute posts must be held simultaneously.
In November 2017, YVV Aditya (in consultation with the Chief Election Officer) proposed a list of amendments to the chapter on Elections, one of which was to delete this stipulation. The proposal, however, has not been accepted yet by the Student Legislative Council or the Board of Students, and this means that moving the elections at this time, more so without informing the GSB well in advance, is unconstitutional and illegal. It is clear that due process has not been followed by any of the student representatives or the administration when taking this decision.
2. Lack of transparency: Of the institute secretaries, only the Speaker, SGS and HAS were aware of the issue. The SGS and HAS are student members of the admin’s hostel allocation committee. The CulSecs were informed only one week before the election announcement. The IAR Secretary, Sports Secretary, CoCAS, AAS, and RAS were never informed. In the SLC, a formal agenda point was never raised; the issue was discussed only informally. The GSB too was not informed or consulted about this decision – it came to light only when GSB members noticed that hostel elections were not notified.
The omission of notification, and not a communication about the same, was how half of the Executive Council, Hostel Councils and the General Student Body, came to know about this decision.
What are the implications of this decision?
This decision has important ramifications for student activities in the institute. Some of them are given below:
1. Impact on student and hostel activities: The earliest possible date for conducting hostel elections next semester is the 3rd week of August, according to a former member of the SEC. This being the case, actual work can start only after Quiz 1, around mid-September. This is a huge delay and affects hostel activities. While the current CulSecs have assured T5E that the Litsoc calendar will not be affected, it is evident from the regular dates of the GBM (in mid-August) that the GBMs will happen only post elections, delaying them by at least one month. During this time, the hostel will have to function without a budget, meaning that no funds can be allocated to important expenditures like washing machine repairs and water dispensers. While there are provisions to use hostel funds without a GBM, there are restrictions on how much money can be utilised pre-GBM.
2. Effect on work done during even semester: Students who currently hold hostel posts and wish to take up new positions next semester (example: contest in elections, positions in Saarang or Shaastra, semester exchanges etc.) will not be in a position to complete their tenures effectively. Practically, work at the hostel level will come to a stand-still by mid-March when current hostel secretaries’ priorities justifiably move to new positions that they want to pursue. For example, a hostel secretary selected as a Saarang Core will most definitely not be in a position to concentrate on any hostel work in the summer and even semester. In addition, final year students who hold these posts (as is the case in many PG hostels) will not be able to complete their tenures.
3. Effect on the Student Legislative Council (SLC) and student activities: The SLC acts as a crucial check on the Executive Council and the SLC’s opinion is considered the legitimate opinion of the GSB. The postponement of hostel elections affects SLC in a few ways:
a. Speaker, SLC Election: The Constitution clearly states that the Speaker shall be elected by the elected legislators (Chapter 3, Section 3, Clause 8). However, given that only a little over half the legislators comprising SLC will be elected in March (assuming no unanimous legislator candidate is rejected), the SLC cannot elect its Speaker till after the Hostel Elections are complete. Since campaigning time has to be provided, even if Hostel Elections are conducted by 20th of August, the earliest that the Speaker elections can be held is the last week of September.
b. Without a Speaker, the SLC cannot carry out any of its functions till October 2018.
This means that SLC shall start functioning effectively only from the first week of October – halfway into the odd semester.
This means that important functions of the SLC, such as the ratification of Core members and the T5E Executive Editor, passing of Executive Council budget etc. cannot happen in summer as is the norm. For example: in the event of a non-ratification, a selected Core team member can be blocked from continuing in his/her position in as late as October. It is detrimental to the fest and to the student to have all his/her work from April to October deemed invalid.
Postponement of the ratification of the T5E Executive Editor will have a considerable impact on T5E’s freedom: The basis for non-ratification of a selected student is not clear in the Constitution when compared with the strict conditions for removal/impeachment of a ratified candidate. With a ratification vote now likely to happen only in September, the delay gives room for possible manipulation of the T5E ExecEd ratification vote. Essentially, this means that the selected Executive Editor cannot freely function in his/her role until October 2018, many months after being selected.
- The SEC informed T5E that it has informally asked Nikhil Namburi, the current Speaker, if he could hold office till September 2018. The implications of this are many. If the current Speaker holds office in the summer, after the new SLC 2017-18 is elected in March, he will be convening an SLC that has not elected him to office and be exceeding the tenure for which he was elected, and hence should not hold any administrative powers. Moreover, the SEC does not have the authority to extend the tenure of an elected representative past his/her end-of-term.
- Unsustainable model: Furthermore, even if we accept SEC’s proposal at face value, this model is not sustainable over the years. A final year Speaker, if elected, will not be able to complete his/her tenure due to graduation. In such cases, for 5 whole months, SLC will necessarily be defunct. This proposal hence has the potential to erode the power and significance of SLC considerably.
c. Incoming 1st-year students’ voting rights: There has not been any information if 1st-year students will have the right to vote in their freshie hostels’ elections in August, after only a few weeks of their time in insti.
Given that the decision to push hostel elections is unconstitutional and affects a number of student activities adversely, it is surprising that the GSB has not heard from student representatives about the decision. The Student Legislative Council is yet to release a statement, and as far as we know, Hostel Councils have not sent mails to their electorates about the changes
Note from the Executive Editor: The above list is non-exhaustive; if readers would like to contribute to this discussion, please email T5E at email@example.com. We hope that the administration, SLC, and SECC provide clarification on how to resolve the above list of issues that insti will face next semester and the precedent this is setting for years to come.
Updates and corrections
21:30, 16th Feb: We’ve corrected the following line – “The SEC informed T5E that it has informally asked Nikhil Namburi, the current Speaker, to hold office till September 2018″ to “The SEC informed T5E that it has informally asked Nikhil Namburi, the current Speaker, if he could hold office till September 2018″. The error is regretted, and we thank Aditya for bringing it to our attention.