The Speaker Soapbox took place on 21st of August, 2018 at Middle Earth, SAC. The candidates who contested for the position of Speaker, SLC were Amar Jyoti, a research scholar from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences and Akash Kumar, a third year undergraduate from the same department. The session was moderated by Chaithra Navada, chairperson of the SECC (Students Ethics and Constitution Committee).
Akash inaugurated the proceedings by outlining his vision, which was to bring SLC closer to institute junta. According to him, the SLC and its functioning is not known to a majority of the general student body. Following this, Akash outlined the key points of his manifesto. In true insti fashion, Akash concluded by urging the legislators to vote ‘for the feels’ and not for ‘the deals’ [10.23].
Amar Jyoti then ascended the podium. His vision for the SLC was to make it more accessible to the students. Amar then summarised his vision through a catchy acronym ‘AASAAN’, which spelt out his vision of accessibility in both short and expanded forms. Amar then appealed to the GSB members (the legislators, in particular) present at the venue to vote for him and concluded [19.27].
It thus appeared that both candidates were bound by their common vision for the SLC.
The opening question in this segment came from Amar Jyoti, who asked Akash how he would put forward his views to the Executive Council, given that most of them are senior to Akash. His question concerned the Executive Council not taking the views of a younger SLC Speaker seriously. Akash replied that he prioritises experience over age [20.47] and that he has two years of experience in the SLC. Amar’s follow-up question was about how Akash would deal with any ‘resistance’ [21.41] from the Executive Council and formulate policies accordingly. In response, Akash pointed out that the Speaker is not meant to formulate any policies [21.59]. The Speaker is meant to moderate the SLC. This reply drew cheers from the audience. Akash further stated that in the event of non-cooperation from the Executive Council, help from the administration will be sought.
Akash opened his questions to his opposing candidate with a sharp rebuke. Calling one of Amar’s manifesto points ‘unconstitutional’ [23.04], Akash went on to point out that Amar Jyoti had established in his manifesto that a student in ‘third year or above’ [23.22] must be accepted for core positions in the SLC. Akash mentioned that this was found to be in direct violation of the student constitution, which does no apply any similar limits on a student aspiring to occupy core positions [23.52]. Akash then cited a second violation [24.24] about the election of standing committee chairperson(s). He termed his opponent’s unfamiliarity with the Students’ Constitution ‘constitutional ignorance’ [25.23] and said that it threatens the democratic nature of the setup that is the SLC.
In response to Akash’s first question, Amar replied that he supports equality among all students, but past experience has taught him that there is lack of efficiency in execution [25.40]. According to him, ‘students who are efficient must be given the opportunity to serve in the SLC’ [26.12]. Amar finished his response with an apology for the error in his manifesto point about the Standing Committee.
The questions that followed largely involved Akash probing Amar on his rule that an SLC candidate ‘must be in third year’. Akash even went as far as asking if Amar proposed to amend the Constitution to include the third-year caveat. To this, Amar returned to his original point on maintaining efficiency in the SLC.
Amar’s next question was directed at Akash’s initiative of a third-party app. He asked how this would be of use to the voting process. Akash replied that the app will be able to document ‘who has voted for what’ [29.23] and added that they will be able to identify ‘in the future, a specific legislator’s vote’ [29.32]. He then cited a shortcoming in the hand-count method of tallying votes that he sought to resolve.
Akash’s second question was regarding Amar’s feasibility checks. According to Akash, Amar had proposed to hold biannual speaking workshops for legislators in collaboration with the Oratory Club. Akash stated that he had spoken to the Oratory Club Convenors, but had not received any final word on such an initiative. Akash proceeded to state few other initiatives of Amar’s which, according to Akash, were unverified. [32.58] Amar responded by clarifying that he had indeed spoken to Hari Shankar, one of the Oratory Club Convenors, who had agreed to collaborate with the SLC. Amar also clarified that his charter proposal was backed by several members of the present SLC.
Akash then discussed Amar’s point about the Constitution Redrafting Committee, stating that Amar could not possibly take their help as, according to Akash, Amar had not spoken to any of them.
Following this, there was a discussion regarding the truth of Amar’s claim about the collaboration with the Oratory Club, where Akash claimed to have proof of the Oratory Club convenor explicitly stating that Amar’s proposal was not feasible. This warranted a minor interjection from Anshuman, the Saarang Events Core, who was seated among the Executive Council members. Chaithra finally intervened to point out that this discussion could not be accommodated into the schedule due to a shortage of time.
Amar began his next set of questions to Akash by pointing out that there was no mention of the budget in Akash’s manifesto or feasibility report. His question broadly had to do with budgeting and reimbursements. Akash was then allowed to display his budget to the GSB [38.17]. Akash explained each of his proposed expenditures in detail.
[39.13] Amar then questioned Akash about the feasibility of a field visit. Akash replied by citing the example of ‘Mohalla Clinics’ in Delhi, saying that the delegation would be taken to survey these sites.
Akash was allowed to raise his final set of questions. Referring to Amar’s manifesto, Akash questioned Amar’s initiative of bringing the supervision of the Executive Wing under the purview of the Speaker. According to Akash, ‘this puts the speaker on a higher pedestal than the EW members’ [40.48] Terming this ‘not a constructive exercise’, Akash asked Amar how he would establish a metric to evaluate the performance of Executive Wing members. Akash followed this with a question on ad-hoc committees and asked Amar if he knew the number of committees which submitted a report to the SLC.
In response to this, Amar stated his would use a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure that there is objectivity [42.35]. Coming to Akash’s question on the ad-hoc committee [44.00], Amar said that he learnt from the previous Speaker that ad-hoc committees were not ‘enthusiastic’, but added that this should not hinder them from setting and realizing goals. Further, the goals of these committees need to be communicated to the GSB better, according to Amar.
[45.28] Cross-questioning ends.
Questions from Executive Council and Interim Speaker
This section includes questions from the SECC Chairperson, members of the Executive Council and the interim Speaker.
As the SECC Chairperson, Chaithra began with a question of her own. She posed the same question to both candidates: what is their stance on the quorum requirement in the SLC?
Akash responded first. He said that no GSB, SECC or T5E member will be counted in the quorum tally. Only SLC members will be counted and fifty percent of that number will be established as quorum.
Amar responded by saying that the root of quorum problem lies in fixing a proper time to convene. Similar to Akash, Amar also responded saying that the quorum is formed by fifty percent of SLC members.
Chaithra questioned the candidates on whether proxy votes are counted. Amar responded in the affirmative. However, he added that ideally, it should not be counted as the presence of legislators makes a difference. Akash replied that it cannot be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. According to him, it is proxy votes are presently counted, but he maintained that it is for the legislators to take the final call.
Nikhil Namburi opened the Executive Council’s questions with a question to Akash. He wanted to know whether Akash had taken any fundaes regarding disciplinary committees. Akash replied that he had. Nikhil’s next question was directed to both the candidates. He asked whether they had perused the HDC (Hostel Disciplinary Committee) manual as proposed by SLC. Akash replied that he had ‘skimmed’ [49.53] through it. Nikhil then proceeded to ask them what their (the candidates’) role was in the HDC, and urged Amar to answer first.
Amar replied that student representatives are a part of the HDC to help students represent their cases. The administration is not in a position to understand students’ concerns and the student representatives play an intermediary role between the admin and students.
Akash acknowledged that Amar had made a valid point and added that the role of the Speaker is to ensure that there is no arbitrariness in the decisions taken by SLC.
Nikhil intervenes to ask what the status of the draft of the HDC rulebook (as prepared by the SLC) is.
Akash replied that, from what he knew, the rulebook cannot be followed word by word. If it is found that the HDC is arbitrary in its decision-making, Akash mentioned that he would take it up with a professor who is a part of the HDC committee.
Nikhil asked the candidates what their stance would be with regard to issues related to narcotics. Akash responded that as a Speaker, he has no direct say over the policies in place. Akash further said that he would prefer taking a retributive stance over a repudiative one. He would prefer rehabilitation.
Amar replied that it is illegal for a person to be doing narcotics and that it must be dealt with accordingly. He also mentioned that the level of offence must be taken into consideration (if a person is a first-time offender and so on). In the long run, however, the goal must be to rehabilitate the students found to be using narcotics.
Nikhil went on to ask if the candidates deem police intervention necessary in such situations. Akash replied that, keeping with institute rules and practices, unless serious narcotics are being used, cases are not reported to the police.
Nikhil then demanded that the two candidates lay out their plan of action in coordinator (coord) selection. According to Nikhil, by the time coord apps are released in mid-September, most good candidates would have found PORs in Saarang, Shaastra and other institute teams. Keeping this in mind, will the incoming Speaker be able to put together a good team? He went on to substantiate his concern for quality teams by citing the example of Saarang FR.
Amar declined Nikhil’s assertion that Saarang and Shaastra claim the maximum number of people for PORs. Shaastra and Saarang require a different set of skills and abilities altogether, according to Amar. Calling it an ‘event management job’, [56.10] Amar said that these two institute fests do not generate much participation. PG students look for PORs where they can ‘generate change’ [56.18]. Amar’s plan, therefore, is to cater to PG students and derive maximum of the SLC’s strength in participation from them. His plan is to rebrand the SLC for the PGs to portray it as a viable opportunity to bring about change.
The SGS, Sriram, expressed his disagreement over the way Amar classified PoRs but agreed that rebranding was necessary. He went on to say that Amar had to tell them about how he planned to rebrand the PoR as that is what plan of action referred to. Nikhil asked Amar how he would incentivise it.
Amar answered saying that he would pitch it as an instrument of change. He gave the example of MMCC where the core and coordinator positions were vacant because they were not glorious PoRs and pointed to PG involvement as there was potential for change. Asked by Chaithra to not delve into examples, Amar went to talk about skills such as policy formulation, negotiation and communication that one would learn. He also listed existing incentives such as parliament trip and certificates.
Akash answered the same question in three points. He said that he would get Institute Finance and Operations and Institute Design and Media team to help out with the logistical and design requirements of SLC. Nikhil interrupted to point out that there was no one in Institute Finance and Operations Team. Amar intervened to tell Akash that he was informed by the SGS that it was better to have the core and coordinator in SLC for things to function efficiently. While Nikhil insisted there were no members in the two teams and that the few who had applied had been rejected, Akash stated that the SGS said that the teams would be able to help. While there were no members at the moment, he asserted that there would be members through the year [59.25].
He said that the Secretariat PoR is quite niche and that he would pitch it as something that gives primary research experience – something that students from HS, DoMS and others find important. Nikhil intervened to ask Akash how many applications he had received the previous year when he had sent them out in August. Akash said that he had received 9 out of which 5 had been selected. Nikhil asked him whether he would get at least that many if he released applications in September this year. Akash said that his team would therefore be lean – 7 members. He said that the positions would be pitched well unlike last year where the Parliament Trip had not been used for the same. Following this was a back and forth between Nikhil and Akash where Nikhil insisted that it had been pitched that way, while Akash denied it, saying that he released the applications.
Without reaching a resolution, they moved on to the next question, where the ex-RAS, Ashok, asked Akash about the plan of action with regard to the creation of a ‘Student Governance for Dummies’ module, given that freshers have already started classes. Akash clarified that it would be a primer to the Students’ Constitution, one that would be given to all students. He said that he had spoken to the ExecEd of T5E who agreed that there was the possibility of a collaboration. The SLC Secretariat would also work on it. On being asked, Akash said that it would be 6-10 page long PDF. He said that the possibility of printing it out would be deliberated upon if it were to become popular. At this point, Akash was bombarded with reminders of the pamphlet/brochure ban. As Akash tried to point out instances of printed material being circulated by other bodies/fest and the possibility of pricing the primer, the outgoing EW shuffled animatedly to give a response. Putting an end to this was Sriram, who agreed to Akash and went on to ask him about the Freshmen Guidebook and the number of pages spent on Student Governance. When Akash answered saying two, Sriram asked him why he had not tried to increase the section there in his capacity as the head of SLC Secretariat, the previous year.
Akash apologized for not approaching the team this year, but he also clarified reiterating that the primer would not be directed to freshers, stating that Sriram’s point about the possibility of completing this manifesto point earlier would have not worked.
Ashok then asked Amar about the Ad-Hoc committee for Guide-Student grievances that he had proposed. He also asked Amar whether he was aware of such a cell functioning across all departments. Amar said that the HoD of his department and research colleagues from other departments denied the existence of such a cell in their departments. He said that there was lack of information about the cell and the requirement to instate it. Ashok clarified that it is the Director and not the HoD, who instates the cell and that it had already been set up for the year.
Amar went on to say that that cell is approached only after a problem escalates and his plan was to have a committee that will do survey and analysis at budding stages and come up with solutions. He said that the name could be changes. He said that students and scholars, in particular, were under a lot of stress and that needs to be looked into. Nikhil asked Amar about the Terms of Reference of this Ad-Hoc Committee and Ashok asked him about the Plan of Action. Amar said that the committee will look into the existing system, interact with all the stakeholders and find out why the grievance committee is unable to address existing challenges. Following this way verbal rally between Ashok and Amar about how well the cell functioned. When asked by Ashok whether the existing hierarchy was inadequate, Amar said that the problem was with the perception of the committee among scholars. It is taken to the cell only when things get out of hand, and Amar sought to address it before that through the Ad-Hoc committee.
CulSec, Subba, spoke about how despite SLC had approving Sangam budget the previous year, they were forced to cut down expenses midway because other bodies like CFI and Placements had overshot theirs. He asked both candidates about how they would prevent this. Akash said that periodic reviews by the Financial Accountability Committee (FAC) and keeping the Dean informed would be done. Amar said that the FAC would ensure adherence to budget.
Subba asked what they would do, in case, say, CFI overshot their budget by Rs.50,000 for an event. Akash said that the Club and the Club-Head would be held responsible and that all events would be kept track of. Amar said that the FAC would help clubs and organisations in designing their budget to keep it realistic.
Nikhil said that the FAC generally consists of three second-year students who are inexperienced. He asked Amar how he expected them to ensure that budgets were not overshot and keep track of everything. Amar is also told that the FAC members are merely expected to audit and investigate, not design budgets. Amar repeats that they will help teams adhere to their budget.
RAS, Sudarshan, asks the candidates about improving turnout at town hall meetings. Amar talks about the lack of awareness about town hall meetings and the power that students have. He also mentions ways to improve publicity and collect student complaints to be presented at the town hall. Akash answers that his initiative of having a question hour, if effective may be an alternative to town hall meetings.
Nikhil then asks the candidates to talk about how their relationship with Mitr, T5E and SECC will be. Akash answered that T5E is an independent media body. It has a manual of its own, hich he would ask to presented at the SLC for review. Final call would be with the editorial team. He said that SLC ratifies the ExecEd, could censure T5E (and minute it) if SLC disagrees with something and approach the FacAd of T5E if necessary. He said the SLC and SECC would work closely on workshops and SECC would have the final say in the interpretation of law.
On being asked by Nikhil whether Mitr could be called to the SLC for questioning, Akash answered in the affirmative. Nikhil asks whether Mitr is mandated to do so and while Akash answers in the negative, Amar interjects saying that Mitr is mandated to do so.
Answering the same question, Amar states that T5E should be an independent media body, but it was not doing its duty properly. It had to take SLC proceedings and disseminate information, which it was not doing properly. He went to state that T5E is mandated by the new Constitution to review standing committees and Ad-Hoc committees and that he has not seen those review. Eved Nikhil interjected to say that it is not compulsory and that T5E can choose to do that. Amar modified his statement to say that he would ‘promote’ T5E to do that. With regard to the ratification of the ExecEd of T5E, Amar’s usage of the term ‘consulted’ was questioned. He said that the views of the Speaker are not binding, however, if the Speaker puts forth their views in detail and is able and efficient, the Executive Editor would hopefully ‘be pressurised indirectly to follow’ [1.21.40].
The SECC, he answered was the judicial body and stated the relationship between SLC and SECC should be cordial. He also said the SECC Commissioner should be selected in consultation with the Speaker and the SECC can be called to present their views at the SLC if necessary. He said the the Health and Hygiene Ad-Hoc Committee of SLC could work with Mitr.
The questioning of Executive Council members was brought to an end and T5E was given time to ask questions. Akash was asked to justify proposing to allocate around Rs. 70,400 from student funds to give SLC members goodies such as caps, keychains, kurtas and stationery as ‘Essentials’. The correspondent also raised a concern about disagreeing with her fee being used for this purpose. Akash replied that this would increase visibility and expenditure would be cut in other places to make up for this. On being asked whether visibility couldn’t be achieved in better ways and how he planned on taking into the views of students whose money was being used, Akash stated the three levels of accountability and reiterated the importance of visibility.
Amar was questioned about his proposal for an Ad-Hoc committee for Speakers’ review with regard to necessity, redundancy and conflict of interest. Amar stated that the review will be a bi-monthly affair, not a one-off thing. He said that no serving legislators would be part of the committee, to avoid conflict of interest.
The last question from T5E to the candidates was with regard to the mandate of the Ad-Hoc Committee on CCASH. They were also asked whether the committee would be continued in their tenure. Amar said that the incumbent-Speaker had told him that the committee had not performed well in their previous tenure. Nikhil was quick to clarify that he had said that the Charter could not be passed in the Senate because of multiple change of Registrars. He also said that he had no problem with the performance or terms of reference of the committee, although he had a problem with something else. Amar then went on to say that he would not renew the term, although an Ad-Hoc committee on raising gender sensitivity was a possibility.
Akash answered the same by saying that the Ad-Hoc Committee on CCASH of both years have been one of the best committees that he had seen and that he would consult the CCASH with regard to extending term and take a call. This was followed by a clarification from the T5E correspondent with regard to the completion of mandate and necessary steps to do the same and they were received well by the candidates.
The floor was then opened to questions from the GSB. The first question to Amar with regard to limiting core positions was deflected as it had already been answered. The second question was in regard to a 30% similarity between the manifestoes of Amar and the incumbent Speaker. Amar gave an explanation of the role of the speaker and the need to raise the same points if relevant.
A GSB member commenting on the SECC, asking the members to maintain uniformity in all soapboxes with regard to facilities and arrangements [1.35.00]. He asked Amar about how he would ensure that research legislators have a say in the Ad-Hoc committees. Amar said that he would ensure adequate representation and with regard to participation, he offered that raising issues pertinent to research scholars would increase involvement.
A GSB member asked how Akash would ensure that decisions made in the SLC are not made against what the majority of GSB wants. Akash said that it is a representative democracy and legislators voted on behalf of students. Rephrased by Chaithra, the question then was with regard to the options the GSB had when they disagreed with a decision made by the SLC. Akash said that it can be raised as an agenda point and that the Speaker acts as the bridge between many stakeholders.
The department legislator of HSS asked Amar whether all departments would care to draft a charter, given that only the HSS department had done that so far and that was due to the involvement of members from the Constitution drafting committee. Amar said that irrespective of whether the department cared, this is a requirement that he as a Speaker will support in fulfilling. He clarified that experienced from other departments would aid the process and not draft the charter.
Akash was then asked about his Plan B for Robert’s Rule of Order. Akash said that it would not be followed to the tee and only sections that seem implementable, as decided by the SLC, will be followed.
Amar was asked about his data-driven policy approach. Amar explained that standing committees will be sending in their requests to the Strategist who will crunch numbers and provide analysis. On being asked, Amar clarified that unlike the limited usage of this approach the previous year, data will drive policy formulations and the work of all standing committees and Ad-Hoc committees.
A research legislator pointed out that he had not been part of institute level undertaking of SLC yet and wanted to know how research legislators will be included. Chaithra clarified that elections are being conducted only now and that the candidates will be able to start work henceforth, if elected. Amar said that he will ensure that newly elected legislators are inducted and given awareness. Akash appreciated the enthusiasm of the legislator and mentioned different points from his manifesto with regard to training and skill-building of legislators.
The last question directed at Amar was about how he planned to implement the operating manual given that he found the last two speakers lacking in that aspect. Amar said that the manual will be revamped according to time and the views of different legislators will be taken into account. This was followed by a clarification from the incumbent Speaker, Nikhil, who stated the mismatches that made it almost infeasible to implement many points.
Akash faced the final question of the soapbox where he was questioned on the feasibility of coming up with a calendar of activities. Akash said that Speaker, in consultation with the secretariat and newly-elected legislators will figure out dates in advance and circulate it to the legislators and GSB. With regard to venue, Akash explained that the OHM hall has been identified as convenient.
The two-hour long session came to an end with mild cheers and a wicked anticipation for the CulSec soapbox that was due to begin right after.