Hundreds of pamphlets lay strewn across the campus roads- a pressing question begs answer- What is the cost of this canvassing on our environment? As threats pertaining to climate change become more and more evident with each passing day, it is surprising how candidates and their supporters go about littering flyers, hoardings and stickers- blatantly oblivious or rather alarmingly unconcerned about the consequences of their actions. The student community, unfortunately, is largely mute.
When we try and think of student elections in one of the most reputed central universities of the country, what picture comes to our minds? Heated discussions in baithaks on issues of grassroots and national importance? Constructive discussion and argumentation over student party manifestos, and if they are failing the cause of student welfare? Engaging public debates for the entire student community to witness? Maybe, students calling out the malpractices of nominated candidates? But, this image shatters, very soon. As we enter the University of Delhi’s north campus during the coveted Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) Elections, you begin to realise just how much young leaders are failing the idea of student representation.
Vying for attention
At the university level, candidates fighting DUSU elections do not have direct access to college students, as candidates contesting for college posts do. The situation becomes tricky. How do they make themselves visible to the college population? Logically, public discussions, debates and manifesto outreach would further this cause. But, sources suggest, that DUSU elections defy this logic. A source (who wishes not to be named), explains-
“A large section of students coming from humble backgrounds from the neighbouring states of the capital is affected by grand tokens- big cars, flyers, bribes. We fear that a different idea might fail because past experience shows that college campaign ideas don’t work well at the university level.”
Much has been already written on the interplay of money, muscle and power in DUSU elections. When it comes to securing tickets, candidates cannot afford to take chances. If one person is distributing pamphlets, others are forced to do it themselves. This rigid mindset hinders positive change. Engaging in conventional campaign methods becomes a necessary step towards obtaining a ticket. Rules, legality, and environmental concerns are neglected in the process.
The University of Delhi’s code of conduct for candidates contesting DUSU and College students’ union elections- stipulates-
“No candidate shall be permitted to make use of printed posters, printed pamphlets, or any other printed material for the purpose of canvassing. Candidates may only utilize handmade posters for the purpose of canvassing, provided that such handmade posters are procured within the expenditure limit of 5000 Rupees.”
Taking a brief walk on any road on the university campus is enough to gauge the extent to which this rule is being flouted. Unofficial accounts of the figures then, do not come as surprising. Sources revealed that on average, each candidate goes on to disperse about one lakh such pamphlets during the peak of election campaigning. A whopping 10-20 lakhs (depending on the post the candidate is eyeing) is spent on the hoardings, pamphlets and stickers alone. This reporter could not find any handmade posters as mandated by the election guidelines.
Waste to food
With the elections being conducted in the university after a gap of three years, ground realities remain unchanged. To what extent these flyers and stickers catch the attention of its intended audience has not been explored well. The flyers, we notice, do catch the attention of some others though. The 5-year-old Arushi and 7-year-old Phuggi are busy helping their mother stash the pamphlets into plastic sacks. Their mother, Sangita tell us that they are able to collect about 15-20 kilos of these pamphlets every day. They sell it kabbadiwalas, and earn upto 150-200 rupees in the process.
“We buy wheat from it, it is easy money.”
National Green Tribunal raises concerns
The stickers pasted on walls of the entire campus and the pamphlets have attracted the ire of National Green Tribunal (NGT) too. The NGT in 2017 had in fact reprimanded the election officers from Delhi University for not complying with its earlier order to prevent posters from being pasted on any part of the university area. However, the defacement of campus walls persists.
As Ismat Ara noted for Newslaundry in their 2018 article, ever since the order, candidates have come up with yet other creative ways to flout the orders. One careful look at the strewn pamphlets will show you that minor tweaks in the candidates’ names are made to escape legal action. What is surprising however is how obvious the dispersed pamphlets are of the issuer’s identity, yet no action is taken to punish the malpractice.
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