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'STUDENTS ARE AT LOSS IN THIS ENDLESS BLAME GAME WITHIN MUMBAI UNIVERSITY'

Thursday, December 28, 2017
Photographs By Trupti Arekar

An advocate, student activist, avid dog lover, leader with a sense of vision and someone who is ‘always wearing seriousness’on his sleeve. DEV KOTAK speaks to ABHISHEK BHAT in a sit down chat as the member of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Students Law Council, sharpens his attacks against gross mismanagement by the University of Mumbai (MU) and much more. Read on to know more about this young, dynamic legal professional who wants to be the face of change, as he aspires to become a modern day representative of today’s youth.

As we enter the house of Abhishek Bhat, I am greeted by the heart-warming sight of his two Labrador dogs- Venus and her mother Princess. As a dog lovers, we connected instantly, but then we were reminded that we were there for an interview, as both his canines had us in rapt attention.

As we settled down, the 24-year-old advocate tells me that Mumbai University hardly pays attention to problems (more than a dozen) and takes their grievances seriously. He personally has no grudges with the premier educational institute, but he is pained and disappointed by both- the inability to solve them and the lackadaisickal attitude of the university, which in turn affects thousands (maybe even lakhs in certain cases) of students.

The LLM first year admissions are not completed and a January 17 date has been set for exams as he blames the on-screen assessment crisis as the reason for delay.

THE ‘STUDENT ACTIVIST’ FIRST BRUSH    
Pursuing Masters of Law from MU (LLM), the first-year student tells me that while his time at Vivekanand College of Law during his LLB days, he took up a fight against the college’s management for charging a high amount of fees of Rs. 14,000 for his college (unaided) and Rs. 7,000 for unaided. He angrily says that it’s not a professional course, calling the fee structure unjust. Many who wanted to pursue the course, but couldn’t owing to the fees.

“We were made to pay two DDs (Demand Drafts) of Rs. 14,000 and Rs. 6,000. This was unaffordable for those serious about studying this course. This itself is a violation of college norms and university took no objection to this ‘fleecing’ by our college. Such things happen when the Fee Regulatory Authority (FRA) gives colleges the liberty to charge as per their cost. So we have to bear the brunt as private institutes and unaided colleges are not exempted from lower fees. This should be done for professional courses like engineering and medicine.”

He believes the abysmally high charges are merely to show in the books required to be maintained by the college.

Asking him why nobody joined him and protested against this, he says “We were just students back then so we couldn’t do much. MU did not even have a grievance cell so who would we even complain to? Even when they got one, it was redundant. Even when Lords Universal College posed questions to MU’s grievance cell regarding the exorbitant fees they got no answer. That’s because this issue is not taken seriously and students give up the fight fearing vendetta by professors at the time of internal marking.”

OSM CO LACKING MERIT?
Merit Trac, an external agency responsible for the On Screen Marking (OSM) had been hired by MU and amount owed to them was Rs. 3.65 crores (tender amount for 1st semester).

“Some professors still correct papers. This (hiring agency) was not needed. It's a waste of money and complication of processes. The evaluation under OSM has still not improved. Wrong marking has caused students to apply for re-evaluation and 30-35 percent papers sent show the candidates have passed. This is a clear money making racket, where MU has acted in connivance with Merit Trac. Evaluation system has not improved, while the quality remains the same. Spend the money on better professors and better evaluators. Delayed results, missing answer sheets and poor implementation of programs are just a few of the issues. No wants to be accountable. We are at a loss in this endless blame game,” he says lambasting the university.  

STRESSES ON NEED FOR ELECTIONS
He rues the lack of democratic institutions within the university. No elections have taken place, disallowing scope for setting up of a 'Student Council Body' in colleges and universities. No infrastructure and an inefficient and disinterested administration would only mean the end sufferers would be the students. With little regard for the need of having a system in place, the university brazenly violates norms.

“Elections are not held despite Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016 prescribing that there must be student council elections in every college. Colleges have arbitrary powers so we cannot question them much,” complains Mumbai University’s ‘achilles heel’ - we call him that because he really poses a threat of annoyance and activism who is keen on highlighting the ills plaguing MU.

When we asked him that he must really be disliked for going after them, he cheekily says “We (members of Students Law Council) are hated because we don’t sit for settlements.”

ALL WORK AND NO PLAY?
He may seem a pensive man, but is not as serious as may want to perceive. The beard and the glasses are just a part of the activist’s look, but that does not make him any less fun right?

He counters us,“I am a boring guy. What do you want to know about me?”. When we prod him, he tells us about that he excelled at sports too. Making correct moves right from the start, he played chess at the district level. Strategy is not the only thing one needs to win, strength is also a must. A former practitioner of karate, this firebrand Mumbai-based Samaritan is a black belt with a total experience of 8 years.  

Ask him why he does not shed the ‘serious’ tag? “I am not nerdy, just intellectual. My friends perceive me as a serious guy, but that’s just how I am.”  

Earlier he was unbeatable in spirit, now he possesses physical strength too. Who would want to mess with this ‘legal eagle’ in the making!      

THE IRONY AND MAKING OF A LAWYER  
“I failed in the Industrial and Companies Law papers, but irony would have it that I became a lawyer and has me gripped to this subject today. See the youth has become bad so I just want to do something different,” he says with pride.

As a young lawyer, he is independently taking up and open to all kinds of cases and currently has three cases (all labour-related).

THE LURE OF POLITICS
He got introduced to the world of activism when he was at Vivekanand and was a part of Aam Admi Party (AAP), having organized a Anna Hazare (social activist) rally in which more than 300 people attended, daring the city’s torrential rains.

“I was impressed by the India Against Corruption campaign of AAP and so I joined them in 2011. Then, I began coordinating the media and youth wing activities of Arvind Kejriwal’s party,” he says.

Ask him if the party will see resurgence at the state level keeping in mind 2019 elections, he minces no words in saying, “There is nothing happening now. There is a leadership crisis, but AAP has done exceptionally well in the education sector in Delhi so we must not forget that.”     

While he hopes the crisis and the mess in MU will end soon, he also does not want to stop holding the system accountable as he continues to remain a crusader in the frontline to bring about a positive change in education scenario and the country at large.

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