Critics fume as TN varsity marks EWS quota in Centre-sponsored course

While the Biotech dept, run by the Union Science Ministry, insists that central quota policy must be implemented in courses sponsored by it, TN academics say it goes against the state’s policy of not giving out EWS quota

In a June 6 notification, the university said the Union government’s rule for reservation (49.5 per cent) would be followed while admitting students in the centrally-funded course, implying that 10 per cent quota is likely to be given to economically weaker sections (EWS).

A recent notification by the state-run Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU), calling for the application of the central quota system in a Centre-sponsored postgraduate course in biotechnology, has kicked off a row. Opinions are vastly divided on the implementation of central quota in a state university.

In a June 6 notification, the university said the Union government’s rule for reservation (49.5 per cent) would be followed while admitting students in the centrally-funded course, implying that 10 per cent quota is likely to be given to economically weaker sections (EWS).

It is to be noted that the Centre has set quotas for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes at 15 per cent, 7.5 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively, in direct recruitment on the basis of competitive exams. Ten per cent reservation is kept aside for those who are not covered under the above quotas.

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The MKU notification said applicants should have a minimum score of 60 per cent for general, EWS and OBC categories and 55 per cent for SC/ST/differently-abled categories in the entrance exam to get admission. The mention of OBC and EWS implies that the university would follow the Union government reservation policy (since in Tamil Nadu there are no OBC or EWS categories).

Several leaders in the state including Su Venkatesan, a Lok Sabha MP from Madurai, have decried the MKU decision to implement Central quota rules, and alleged that it goes against the state’s reservation policy.

Although MKU has not mentioned the quantum of quota that is to be awarded to each social class, critics say clubbing EWS and OBC along with the general category will enable the latter sections to avail seats meant for the general category if there are fewer general category applicants.

It is a known fact that the state government, which currently provides 69 per cent reservation, is against the inclusion of EWS under the reservation system. It has time and again objected to making economic conditions a criterion to avail reservation.

Lessons from the past

In 2021, a similar kind of notification issued by Anna University for the MTech Biotechnology course created a clash between the Union and the state governments. The university later shelved the course.

Students hit by the discontinuation of the course moved the Madras High Court, which ruled in favour of the state, instructing the university to create nine more seats for the course in addition to the existing 25. The court, however, ruled that those nine students wouldn’t be eligible for fellowships from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), run by the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, which funds the course, as the state reservation system was followed to fill the nine additional seats. Also, even though the university followed the Union government’s reservation policy, the EWS category was not implemented.

It is in this backdrop that the MKU notification has met with opposition. In the wake of the backlash, University Vice-Chancellor J Kumar sent a letter to the DBT regarding the resubmission of the seat matrix as per the state government reservation policy, on Monday (June 13). A response is yet to come.

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According to the proposed seat matrix, no students would be admitted to this programme under the EWS category. All the 30 seats of this programme would be filled as per the state reservation policy.

‘Financial assistance makes a difference’

The university presently runs a course similar to one funded by the DBT. All the 20 seats in the course are filled under the state reservation system and the students of this programme do not get any fellowships.

This is why the DBT demands state universities to implement the Union reservation policy when the courses are funded by it, say experts.

“In order to cultivate manpower in the field of biotechnology, the DBT started this programme in 1986. At that time, only five universities across the country were selected to run the programme. MKU was one among the five and thus became one of the first universities in the state to introduce the programme. Today, there are 64 centres across the country. To get admitted in these institutions, the students should write the GAT-B entrance exam,” N Sankar, programme coordinator, MKU, told The Federal.

The students selected for the DBT-funded programme would receive a sum of ₹35,000 per year as fellowship. Besides, they receive ₹50,000 as financial assistance to carry out research projects in the second year along with the required apparatus.

“The students who are pursuing a similar course offered by the state universities would not get such facilities and assistance. Also, there is not much of a difference in the syllabus of both the courses. Similarly, since Anna University is a technology university, the students undergoing the same course will have some more papers on technology applications,” Sankar added.

‘VCs toeing BJP line’

G Karunanidhy, general secretary, the All India Federation of Other Backward Classes Employees Association and also a member of the state appointed social justice committee, told The Federal that the committee is receiving frequent complaints in this regard.

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“Despite many observations made by the courts, the universities are still implementing the EWS category, which is against the state reservation policy. Just because they receive funds from the Union government they cannot implement the EWS category in reservation. We are receiving many complaints pertaining to this issue,” he said.

He accused the vice-chancellors of toeing the line of the BJP and RSS, and implementing EWS.

“The current issue came to light because it was raised by Venkatesan. If not, the university would have gone ahead with its original notification. The universities react only when there is opposition,” Karunanidhy added.

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