Many university students gathered outside the Islamabad Press Club to protest against their universities and the Higher Education Commission (HEC). The primary demand echoed through the crowd was the immediate resolution of the pressing accommodation problem faced by tens of thousands of students.
Students Rally Against Evictions
The catalyst for the protest stems from the recent eviction of a significant number of students from privately-run hostels. This mass eviction was a consequence of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) sealing numerous premises for ‘non-conforming use,’ indicating that these establishments were operating as commercial enterprises without proper authorization.
A public interest petition, representing the students, was filed in the Islamabad High Court, shedding light on the severity of the situation. According to the petition, the CDA’s policy has left approximately 30,000 students on the verge of eviction. The petition emphasized that universities are obligated under section 4(xxiii) of the Federal Universities Act and other laws to provide sufficient on-campus accommodation and to oversee the approval or licensing of hostels and lodgings in the city.
Regrettably, the petition noted that only five out of the 35 universities established in Islamabad over the last two decades have taken any substantial steps to address this issue. Consequently, students find themselves compelled to reside in privately-managed hostels located in CDA sectors.
In November, the CDA issued non-conforming notices to over 70 hostels, exacerbating the already precarious situation for the students. The abrupt closure of at least two hostels late in the evening forced many students to spend the night on the streets, underscoring the urgency of their accommodation crisis.
The petition also highlighted the role of the Higher Education Commission, stating that it has a statutory mandate to protect the interests of students, including matters related to accommodation. However, the HEC has reportedly failed to intervene in this crisis, according to the petition.
In response to the students’ plea, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, during the preliminary hearing, directed the HEC chairman to promptly hear the students’ grievances and take necessary actions to address the accommodation crisis. This directive is seen as a ray of hope for the students who have been left in limbo due to the housing predicament, and it underscores the importance of urgent intervention to safeguard the educational pursuits of thousands.