Unravelling the Dispute: SECC and Team Pragati

Recently the student community bore witness to a dispute between the Student Ethics and Constitution Commission (SECC) and Team Pragati through the students’ mailing forum, smail. T5E reached out to the stakeholders in order to take a closer look at this conflict.

Incident Overview

Team Pragati is an initiative under the Students’ General Secretary to assist students in their academic pursuits and provide the best possible support. It encompasses different bodies within its fold to achieve this purpose. The SECC is one of the institute’s three major branches of student government. As the chief regulatory body, they ensure equality among the students. The dispute between the SECC and Team Pragati arose when the latter sent applications for the positions of Heads for two bodies – the CAT Club and the Academic Mentorship Cell (AMC).

The CAT Club’s objective is to assist students with career prospects in the field of management. When the application for the head position of this club was released, SECC issued a Writ of Mandamus, stating that the formation of the CAT Club had not been ratified by the Student Legislative Council (SLC) and due process was not followed. Further, it urged Team Pragati to halt the selection process. A Writ of Mandamus is a legal order commanding a public body or an individual to perform a specific action or duty that they are legally obligated to do. It’s a way to ensure that someone in a position of power follows the law and carries out their duties properly. However, Team Pragati failed to comply with SECC’s directions, which led to the former being held in contempt of court.

The AMC aims to provide guidance and mentorship to enable students to successfully navigate any academic challenges they face and foster a supportive environment. After Team Pragati circulated applications for the head position, SECC replied to the email with a Writ of Mandamus, asserting that “the AMC has been renamed and repositioned as Department Academic Mentorship Program (DAMP) under the Academic Affairs Secretary by the 2022-23 SLC”. It also announced its intentions to convene an investigative hearing and instructed Team Pragati to halt the selection process until further notice. To this, the former Student General Secretary (SGS), Mr. Ajay Singh Sitole, replied in the smail thread that the DAMP was a separate program under the AAS, intending to support students in career-related activities, including internships and placements. He further added that, according to him, there was no conflict of interest between the DAMP and the AMC, which was transferred from Saathi to Pragati. Following this, Team Pragati sent an email stating that they “will be continuing the selection of AMC Heads and there is no halt in this process”, which led to SECC initiating 2nd contempt of court proceedings against the Cores of Team Pragati and the SGS for failing to observe the Writ of Mandamus.

The Ruling

The 1st contempt of court proceedings led to a verdict which suspended the SGS from his position for 24 hours, gave a disciplinary warning to the Cores of Team Pragati and advised them to send a public apology. The verdict of the 2nd contempt of court proceedings suspended the Team Pragati Cores from their positions for 24 hours, gave a disciplinary warning to the SGS and directed him to send a public apology.

Resolving Concerns

As the verdict was released over smail to the general student body, it allowed the students to voice their opinions. There were varying concerns, reactions and viewpoints, ranging from disappointment regarding the actions of Team Pragati to outrage over the perceived misuse of power by SECC. There was also disapproval of SECC’s suspension of a student-elected representative.

In T5E’s correspondence with one of the Cores of Team Pragati, it was pointed out that although the CAT club was formed without prior approval from the SLC, it was in the best interest of the GSB as it gave the students more time to prepare. This concern surfaced in one of the smails as well.

In response, SECC stated that the due process must be followed in any case, in order to eliminate the event of students being part of an unconstitutional body. According to Chapter IV, Section III, Clause V of the Students’ Constitution, for any Student Government Associated Organisation (SGAO) to come into existence, it needs to be ratified in the SLC. This is done to ensure that the legislators, as well as the other students understand the proposed organisation’s policies. In this particular scenario, owing to the urgency of the situation at hand, the recommended course of action would have been informing the SLC Speaker about the proposal for the club, according to SECC. The SLC Speaker would then convene a meeting, as is their responsibility.

According to the verdict released by SECC through smail, two of the Team Pragati Cores had stated that they weren’t aware of the emails that led to them being held in contempt of court in the investigative hearing. This raised questions regarding the fairness of the judgement to all the stakeholders. SECC responded by stating that it accepted and considered the Cores’ statement, which is why it directed Team Pragati, collectively, to send a public apology, and not the individual members. As the email mentioned above was sent from the Team Pragati account, all the three members had to be held accountable. Additionally, the SGS was held responsible for sanctioning the email that disregarded the Writ of Mandamus. The SGS declined to comment on this issue.

Further, the SECC affirmed that they followed the constitution for the entirety of this process and adhered to its rules of procedure. Moreover, according to the Chief Commissioner of SECC, “(it was) made sure that none of the stakeholders is being unnecessarily sanctioned or punished for something which he or she has not committed”. 

It is to be noted that Team Pragati has complied with the recommendations of SECC and moved for the ratification of the CAT Club in SLC01. According to the minutes of the meeting (MoM) circulated through smail on the 18th of June, the club has been successfully ratified.

To prevent a repeated occurrence of such an incident, it is imperative that there is increased awareness about the constitutional provisions of Students’ Constitution of IIT Madras. Future student bodies must make a note to follow the constitution to prevent potential complications.

Edited by: Garima Sane

Design: Keerthana Senthil

Amirtha Varshini

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