Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani on Friday said the government had no role in banning a student group at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras for distributing controversial pamphlets that were likely "to create an atmosphere of hate" and the action taken was according to the institute's "own procedure and guidelines".
Irani's statement followed reports stating that the institute had taken action against the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) - a students' study group - over an anonymous complaint to the central government, saying the study group was trying to "create an atmosphere of hatred" among students by distributing "controversial pamphlets and posters" on the campus.
In a statement, the ministry said: "The action has been taken by IIT-Madras as per the guidelines of the institute, the ministry of human resource development had nothing to do with this except for forwarding the complaint received to director, IIT, Madras for comments."
IIT-Madras has taken action as per their own "procedure and institute's guidelines", it said.
"IITs being autonomous institutions, they are competent to handle matters within their guidelines and procedure. The matter has been clarified by IIT, Madras through a media statement," it added.
In a letter dated May 15, the ministry had written to the IIT saying it had received an "anonymous letter" alleging serious complaints from students along with a pamphlet of APSC requesting comments from the institute.
The anonymous letter said some controversial posters and pamphlets were pasted and distributed all over the institute.
"One group 'Ambedkar Periyar' is trying to de-align the ST/SC students and trying to make them to protest against the MHRD and central government. They are also trying to create hatred against the prime minister and Hindus," it said, adding the group was using IIT Madras as a stage to get publicity.
The institute's spokesperson said that while IIT-Madras did not curtail freedom of expression of the students, it is expected that student groups adhere to guidelines while conducting their activities.
The spokesperson said there were several student organisations functioning on the IIT campus, where some of these organisations represented the entire student body, elected and run by the students themselves.
"Some of the student groups are formed based on the interests of students. Student groups desiring to use the institute's resources are required to be recognised and they are to follow guidelines prescribed by the board of students which consists of all the elected student representatives," he said.
As per the guidelines in force, the student bodies cannot use the name of the institute or its official entities in any capacity to publicise their activities or garner support, without official permission, he added.
"The Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle has violated the guidelines while conducting their meeting.
Normally, violation of these guidelines leads to temporary derecognition pending their presenting their stand to the board of students. In the present case also, the same procedure is being followed," he added.
The issue fast picked up a political angle.
Attacking the government, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, in a tweet, said: "IIT student group banned for criticizing Modi Government. What next?"
He added that free speech "is our right. We will fight any attempt to crush dissent and debate".
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the arrogance of the Narendra Modi government has come to an extent that if "a students' organization criticizes their policies, that group is disbanded".
"Is this how voice of dissent raised by youth will be suppressed in the country? This is why Rahulji has raised his voice," he said.
The National Students Union of India (NSUI) also held a protest outside Irani's residence here against the "anti-constitutional act of the government in banning the APSC of IIT Madras for aptly criticizing the government's inabilities".
"NSUI believes that such an act is in complete violation with regard to the constitutional right of freedom of expression and speech given to every individual of the country," its spokesperson Amrish Ranjan Pandey told IANS.
The protestors were detained and taken to the Parliament Street police station.