The Yogi Adityanath government has cleared a draft law under which private universities across Uttar Pradesh will have to ensure that campuses will not be allowed to be used for "any anti-national activity" among other provisions. The government has not clarified what constitutes "anti-national activities" but has warned universities of "action" if the law is violated.
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya declared the ordinance "a very big decision" and that "in the temple of education only education should happen".
The ordinance, cleared by the state cabinet on Tuesday; will bring all 27 private universities under an umbrella law.
The draft law says universities must act to inculcate "desh bhakti (patriotism)" in its students. It also says universities must "preserve the secular, democratic fabric and aspire for universal brotherhood and tolerance".
"It is true that a very big decision has been taken by the cabinet. Not just in Uttar Pradesh but in any educational institution across the country, anti-national activities will never be accepted. Neither any state nor the country will accept it," the deputy chief minister said,
"The Uttar Pradesh government has taken a decision in this direction that in the temple of education, only education should happen and there should be no liberty given to carry out anti-national practices," he added.
The Uttar Pradesh Private Universities Ordinance (UPPO) 2019 is to be introduced in the state Assembly when it reopens in July. The 27 existing private universities will have one year to implement the order; new universities will have to give an undertaking that such activities will not happen on their campuses.
The ordinance is being seen by many as an attempt by the Yogi Adityanath government to exert greater control over private universities and the education system, particularly given the lack of clarity over what defines "anti-national activities".
Concerns over freedom of expression in Uttar Pradesh have grown since the arrest of Delhi-based journalist Prashant Kanojia, who was arrested for allegedly "defaming" Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and four others.
Mr Kanojia was picked up from his home in Delhi earlier this month after he tweeted a video of a woman who claimed on camera that she sent a marriage proposal to the Chief Minister. His wife Jagisha Arora had challenged the arrest in the Supreme Court.
The court ordered Mr Kanojia be released, saying the fundamental right to liberty is "non-negotiable".
Universities in Uttar Pradesh are either bound by laws from institutions they are affiliated to or, as in the case of private universities, by their own laws and regulations. The Private Universities Ordinance aims to define how the 27 private institutions will function in the state.
The government provides a number of private universities in the state with grants.
The ordinance will also require private universities' compliance to be overseen by the State Higher Education Council, which will be empowered to file reports with the government for action if it is unable to get information from any private university within a specified period of time.
Other sections of the ordinance include ensuring specific numbers of students from poorer sections of society are admitted to these universities; students so admitted will have to pay only 50 per cent of the fees.