Basara IIIT
RGUKT at Basara, Telangana, is among India’s two rural IIITs. Pic:

Basara-IIIT: Gross neglect erodes lofty goal of rural tech institute

Nearly 8,000 students of Basara-IIIT went on strike as the university had no VC for eight years and no permanent professors or doctorates among the faculty; the hostel conditions were pathetic

As many as 8,000 students who had been protesting on the campus of Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT) at Basara (Telangana) to draw the government’s attention to the pathetic conditions in classrooms and hostels of the institution, called off their strike on Monday midnight following assurances by education minister P Sabitha Indra Reddy that their demands will be met.

The minister, accompanied by in-charge Vice-Chancellor Rahul Bojja and education secretary Vakati Karuna, met at the campus with members of the governing councils of the students. Assuring the students that all the issues would be addressed soon, the minister persuaded them to call off their protest.

She assured them that all their demands would be resolved in a month and that she would review the implementation of the demands, including the appointment of an in-house vice-chancellor on the campus. Following the assurance, the students announced after midnight that they had called off the strike and would attend the classes from Tuesday.

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RGUKT at Basara is among India’s two rural IIITs, the other being in Andhra Pradesh. The university is informally called Basara-IIIT, as it was conceptualised on the lines of IIIT (Indian Institute of Information Technology), Hyderabad.

The students had gone on strike wanting a time-bound action plan to resolve all the issues that were defeating the lofty goal of bringing corporate education for free to the students of rural Telangana. The institute, a brain-child of Prof Raj Reddy of Carnegie Mellon University, US, that was planned to be run like an IIT, is now a victim of apathy.

No VC for eight years

The university has not had a vice-chancellor for eight years. Students allege that the ICT content of the curriculum has been removed, they have not been given laptops, LAN has been removed and wi-fi is not functional.

The university has no permanent professors or doctorates among the faculty. According to a student, it has only one permanent associate professor among teachers. “Lab assistants and guest faculty take classes. The era of having its own standard syllabus prepared by experts is gone.  At the plus 2 level, the students are asked to follow Telugu Academy textbooks,” he said.

As for hostels, the students said they are living in inhuman conditions. “Ninety per cent of the toilets and washrooms are not fit for use. Hostel rooms are inadequate. When in full strength, students eat sitting on the floor of the mess. The living conditions in the women’s hostels are even worse. Since there is no adequate staff, cleaning of washrooms and toilets has long been forgotten,” they told The Federal.

For the fear of attracting the wrath of officials, the students silently suffered all these years. The commotion began last October when NAAC gave the university a C grade. This translates into fewer campus recruitments and lower wages. This generated a sense of insecurity among the students.

Since the campus is located in Basara village, Nirmal district, 200 km away from Hyderabad, the goings-on in RGKUT escaped media scrutiny. Many students say that inaccessibility compounded its problems. Moreover, the campus has been out of bounds for outsiders.

It was in March, when retired IPS officer RS Praveen Kumar visited the campus, that the plight of the students came to light. It took nearly six months for the murmur among the students to snowball into a protest march by 8,000 students a week ago.

Established through an Act of the undivided Andhra Pradesh assembly in 2008, RGKUT had three campuses at the beginning. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, Basara campus remained with Telangana while the other two campuses, one at Nuzvid and the other at Idupulapaya, went to Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh added two more campuses, making it a prestigious university with four campuses. In Telangana, the university has been given a short shrift.

YSR’s dream institute

According to an official who worked with the university at the initial stages, Prof Raj Reddy floated the idea of setting up a modest ICT university for rural students with a strength of 500 and with a single campus in Hyderabad.

The then chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR), however, liked the idea so much that he asked Prof Reddy to raise the strength to 1,000 and set up three campuses in three regions i.e. Telangana, Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra.

YSR promised the necessary budget. “No entrance was planned to intake students. If an entrance is conducted, the coaching institutes make it a farce at the cost of poor rural students. So, it was decided to admit students based on merit with Mandal as a unit. This will make the university representative of the entire state with the students from all Mandals across the state. It was also decided that the faculty should be recruited from NITs and IITs across the country to train the students to compete with other urban IIITs in the country. Professor RV Raja Kumar from IIT-Kharagpur was appointed the first vice-chancellor. When he began work to model these campuses as IIT campuses, the bifurcation of the state took place in 2014 and he had to go back to Kharagpur,” said a source on the condition of anonymity.

“While digital classes were unknown in other engineering colleges, RGKUT began streaming digital lessons way back in 2011 simultaneously to all the three campuses with the help of IIIT Hyderabad. After the digital class, the teacher would repeat the class physically to take queries from the students. CDs of these classes were also made available to students,” he said. In order to increase employability in diverse areas, even if the IT market faces stagnation, Prof Kumar had started courses in other branches as well, including metallurgy, he added.

Basara RGKUT’s significance

When the question of establishing the campus in Telangana arose, Basara was suggested by many as the village, located on the banks of River Godavari, houses the famous Gnana Saraswati Temple. Its proximity to Hyderabad also helped attract faculty with NIT and IIT backgrounds. But, after the bifurcation, the institute began losing its charm.

According to Dr RS Praveen Kumar, who transformed the social welfare residential schools of the state into centres of excellence as Secretary, Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions, GoTS, the fault lies with the government’s pro-private university policy.

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“The government is pursuing an anti-poor policy. The students admitted to RGKUT Basara are the best minds from rural Telangana. They come from economically weaker sections. The university was launched to make available high-quality engineering education free of cost to them so that they can compete with peers from IITs and IIITs for jobs. But there has been a gradual decrease in the government’s budgetary support. Lack of funds forced the qualified faculty to leave the university and this led to the downgrading of the university by NAAC,” Dr Praveen said.

Wondering how a prestigious institute was left without a vice-chancellor for eight years, Dr Praveen, who took VRS from IPS in July 2021, alleged that the in-charge vice-chancellor had not visited the campus even once in three years.

Indifference towards public education

Another former IAS officer Akunuri Murali said that allowing the universities to function without vice-chancellors has become an undeclared policy of the Telangana government.

“On the one hand it is allowing private universities to set up shop in the state, on the other, state universities are languishing without VCs, professors, and permanent lectures. Indifference towards public higher education is definitely an anti-poor policy as 90 per cent of students in these universities come from socially and economically weaker sections of rural Telangana. The Basara IIIT has fallen victim to the same policy,” Murali, who heads the Social Democratic Forum (SDF), told The Federal.

He said SDF attempts to visit the campus had not met with success as police were not allowing any outsiders into the campus.

Meanwhile, BJP President Bandi Sanjay Kumar and TSPCC President Revanth Reddy made a futile attempt to meet the students. While the BJP chief Bandi was stopped mid-way, Revanth was taken into custody at the University.

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