12/04/2017 8:08 AM IST | Updated 12/04/2017 8:18 AM IST

Chandigarh Police Slap Sedition Charges On 66 Panjab University Students Protesting A Fee Hike

Apparently the complainant "was misinterpreted" by the police.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Clash between the protesting students and police during All Party protest for Fee hike outside VC office Panjab University on April 11, 2017 in Chandigarh, India.

In yet another incident of misuse of India's colonial sedition law, the alleged "misinterpretation" of the words of a complainant from the Panjab University led to the Chandigarh Police slapping sedition charges on 66 students protesting on campus on Tuesday against a steep fee hike.

Ashwani Kaul, the chief security officer, initially told the police that the students "raised slogans against the state", when the protests turned violent. He later told the Indian Express that by state he meant the Ministry of Human Resources Development, the UGC and the PU.

It's a matter of contention as to how the UGC, HRD ministry or PU is synonymous with the country. The sedition law gives the state sweeping powers to arrest anyone suspected of 'treason', despite the Supreme Court, in several judgments, protecting the rights of the citizens to criticise their government, and laying down clear guidelines as to what constitutes sedition.

What probably prompted Kaul's complaint were slogans of "PU murdabad", "MHRD murdabad" and "UGC murdabad", according to the paper.

Kaul said: "Police misinterpreted and slapped sedition charges on them. I have examined CCTV footage and video recordings of the protest and have clarified the situation to Chandigarh Police." However Eish Singhal, SSP, Chandigarh Police, was quoted by the paper as saying that the charge will be dropped if no substantial evidence is found.

Of the 66 identified, 52 students were arrested after the protest turned violent, forcing the police to use force, resulting in injuries to both sides. Some mediapersons were also injured during the protest, PTI reported.

PTI reports: After registering a case of rioting and damage to public property against the protesting students, police have arrested 52 students out of the 66 identified by the university authorities, police said.

The agitating students wanted to hold talks with Vice Chancellor Arun Kumar Grover on the fee hike issue as they were observing "PU Bandh" against the recent hike.

When the students were not called for discussion, they tried to forcibly enter the VC office in the varsity campus by jumping the barricades set up by police.

Police resorted to water cannons to disperse the angry students. The situation turned violent when students allegedly started pelting stones and flower pots at cops, forcing the police to lathicharge and lob teargas shells, leading to injuries to several students including girls.

Several student bodies including Students for Society (SFS), National Students Union of India (NSUI), Punjab University Students Union (PUSU) had given a joint call for 'Panjab University Bandh' in protest against the fee hike.

"We resorted to use force after students turned violent," UT Chandigarh SP Eish Singhal said, adding that some police vehicles were also damaged.

"On our side 22 cops sustained injuries," SP said. "We have arrested 52 students so far for rioting and damaging public property," he said.

After police used force, some protesting students took shelter in a Gurdwara situated on the campus.

Earlier, the protesting students boycotted classes. Some students could also be seen forcing the shops to close. Some photo journalists and reporters who were covering the protest have also sustained injuries allegedly caused by police cane charge.

Chandigarh Press Club strongly condemned the alleged lathicharge by the police on photographers and journalists.

In some courses, the fee hike was steep. In the B Pharma course, the fee was raised from Rs 5,080 to Rs 50,000 and in MA (journalism) course, the fee was hiked from Rs 5290 to Rs 30,000.

In a release issued here, the Press Club's president Jaswant Rana and Secretary General Barinder Singh Rawat alongwith the governing council members demanded inquiry into the incident and registration of FIR against those police personal who were involved in lathicharge.

A delegation of the Chandigarh Press Club will meet the UT Administrator, UT Adviser and UT IGP in this regard to take strict action against those involved in this incident, the release said.

The students have been protesting against the "significant" hike in tuition fee announced by the PU senate last month for the 2017-18 academic year.

In some courses, the fee hike was steep. In the B Pharma course, the fee was raised from Rs 5,080 to Rs 50,000 and in MA (journalism) course, the fee was hiked from Rs 5290 to Rs 30,000. For PU's dental course, the fees was increased from Rs 86,400 to Rs 1.50 lakh.

With the students demanding rollback of the fee hike, the PU had justified the average 12.5 per cent hike while considering the financial condition of the university as the it has anticipated a deficit of Rs 244 crore for the financial year 2017-18.

Here are some SC judgments that take a look at the sedition law. Recently the government said the law is being reviewed by the Law Commission after members in Rajya Sabha demanded that it should be scrapped altogether. However, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu has hinted that raising slogans of 'azaadi' (freedom) anywhere in the country — be it Bastar or Kashmir — will be brought under the contentious law.