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January 21, 2016

No problem in revival of student unions,government tells Senate


January 21, 2016

ISLAMABAD: The government informed the Senate Committee of the Whole on Wednesday that there was no problem in revival of the student unions but this must be tagged with essential check and balance, which was supported by the senators.

The committee met here at the Senate Hall with Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani in the chair for proposals and input from the Minister of State for Federal Education Muhammad Balighur Rehman, Secretary Ministry of Interior Shahid Khan and the Sindh Chief Secretary Muhammad Siddique Memon.

There was a consensus among the participants on the need for revival of student unions but stressed that a code of conduct must be devised and mechanism put in place to ensure its compliance. The senators asked various questions about different aspects of the matter. The forum was told that as per the Supreme Court order, even today each student had to submit an affidavit not to take part in any union activities.

However, there was a difference of opinion on whether or not, the unions, once allowed to function, should have affiliation with mainstream political parties.

The minister said the Quaid-i-Azam’s support to student unions was a beacon for all and noted the Muslim Student Federation was formed even before the creation of Pakistan. He said that all shared unanimity that student unions should be back to business but should be regulated properly, having no links with mainstream political parties and there should also be no power abuse.

“Unionists in no way be someone’s tools and no elements in the name of students should become part of student unions. In the past, rocket launchers were recovered from students and they became so powerful that vice-chancellors hesitated to take action against wrong-doers,” he recalled.

Baligh proposed that the universities’ VCs might be invited for their proposals on this count and the world examples should be kept in view while taking a step forward in this connection.

At the start of proceedings, Rabbani peeped into the history of student unions and their contribution in revival and strengthening of democracy in Pakistan and recalled a military dictator Ziaul Haq clamped ban on them.

He pointed out then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had announced restoration of student unions but this could not be implemented. Rabbani said among others, university vice chancellors would be also invited to the Senate committee.

Interior Secretary Shahid called for defining certain parameters for student unions after also taking into account the experience of the neighbouring countries at the other nations in the advanced world.

Spelling out a kind of code of conduct for student unions, he proposed that the student unions should consist of regular students and it should also be seen, could these be kept away from political parties.

Unregistered students, he continued, should not become part of unions, making sure academic activities at the universities and colleges in no way would be affected by union activities. He said there should also be age limit for students: their academic performance and attendance may also a part of criteria to qualify for unionism, having no criminal record.

The secretary explained that the limit of expenditures by unions be defined and there should also be proper audit of the same. “Student unions must not indulge in sectarian, racial or other prejudices. Their activities be confined to university campus only with no permission to non-students to be part of them,” he said.

Sindh Chief Secretary Siddique Memon told the forum that the provincial government would hold consultations with the stakeholders, including vice-chancellors, political parties as to what should be the parameters with regards to student unions that would be shared with the House.

He emphasised that student union activities should be education-oriented and the code must ensure, these causing no impediment in educational activities, being the prime concern.

Leader of the House Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq wanted to know the current status of student unions in Sindh. He was told by Memon that student unions existed informally and that no unionisation was permitted. But they were free to hold cultural, sports and other activities.

PML-N’s Abdul Qayyum said there were no two opinions on the question of revival of student unions, being a constitutional right of citizen but insisted unions should be restored keeping in view ground realities.

He called for thrashing out checks and balances so that student unions could not become instruments of political parties. He recalled how as the chief execution of the Pakistan Steel Mills, the union used to blackmail, enjoying back of a political party and how exchange of fire took place between union factions, occupying plants of the mills.

MQM Senator Khushbakht Shujat and Senator Nihal Hashmi of PML-N also supported revival of student unions and said they already existed but there was ban on elections.

Memon praised Senator Muzaffar Hussain Shah of PML-Functional for his proposal that the parliamentarians, MPAs and parents should also be consulted regarding unions’ revival.

PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed noted that many of the senators had been part of student unions and that had students been not been mobilised by the Quaid, Pakistan would not have emerged on the world map.

He pointed out that there should be extreme caution in dealing with the matter, as some student unions had been involved in parochial and ethnic trends and also some became vehicle in the hands of such elements.

The senator emphasised there should be no class distinction in unions and whether or not, student unions would be allowed in private academic institutions.

PML-N Senator Salahuddin Tirmizi noted that crime and law and order had been an issue in the past with regards to student unions.ion, he added.

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