In India, the idea of involving students in the task of national service dates back to the times of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. He suggested that instead of undertaking academic research about economic and social disability, the students should do "something positive so that the life of the villagers might be raised to a higher material and moral level".
The University Grants Commission headed by Dr. Radhakrishnan recommended introduction of national service in the academic institutions on a voluntary basis with a view to developing healthy contacts between the students and teachers on the one hand and establishing a constructive linkage between the campus and the community on the other hand.
In the draft First Five year Plan adopted by the Government of India in 1952, the need for social and labour service for students for one year was further stressed. Consequent upon this, labour and social service camps, campus work projects, village apprenticeship scheme etc. were put into operation by various educational institutions, In 1958, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his letter to the Chief-Ministers, mooted the idea of having social service as a prerequisite for graduation.
In 1959, a draft outline of the scheme was placed before the Education Minister's Conference. The Conference suggested the appointment of a committee to work out details of the proposed pilot project. In pursuance of these recommendations, a National Service Committee was appointed under the Chairmanship of Dr. C.D. Deshmukh on August 28, 1959 to make concrete suggestions in this direction. The committee recommended that national service for a period of nine months to a year Deshmukh on August 28, 1959 to make concrete suggestions in this direction. The committee recommended that national service for a period of nine months to a year may be made compulsory for all students completing high school education and intending to enroll themselves in a college or a university. The scheme was to include some military training, social service, manual labour and general education. The recommendations of the Committee could not be accepted because of its financial implications and difficulties in implementation.
The Education Commission headed by Dr. D.S. Kothari (1964-66) recommended that students at all' stages of education should be associated with some form of social service. This was taken into account by the State Education Minister during their conference in April 1967 and they recommended that at the university stage, students could be permitted to join the National Cadet Corps (NCC) which was already in existence on a voluntary basis and an alternative to this could be offered to them in the form of a new programme called the National Service Scheme (NSS).
The Vice Chancellors' Conference in September, 1969 welcomed this recommendation. In May, 1969, a conference of the students' representatives of the universities and institutions of higher learning convened by the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission also unanimously declared 'that national service could be a powerful instrument for national integration.
On September, 1969, Union Education Minister Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao, launched the NSS programme in 37 universities covering all States. The cardinal principle of the programme is that it is organised by the students themselves and both students and teachers through their combined participation in social service, get a sense of involvement in the tasks of national development.
The scheme now extends to all the states and universities in the country and covers +2 level also in many states. Students, teachers, guardians, persons in authority in government, universities and colleges/schools and the people in general now realize the need and significance of NSS. There are several instances of excellent work and exemplary conduct of NSS units which have earned them respect and confidence of the people. The special camping programmes organised under the themes of 'Youth Against Famine (1973)', 'Youth Against Dirt & Disease (1974-75)', 'Youth for Eco-Development' and "Youth for Rural Reconstruction', 'Youth for National Development and Youth for Literacy (1985-93)' 'Youth for National Integration and Communal Harmony (1993-95)' have resulted in gains both to the community as well as to the students. The theme for the year 1995-96 onwards for Special Camping is Youth for Sustainable Development with focus on Watershed Management and Water land Development'. Themes have been selected in accordance with national priorities. Also, from 1991-92 onwards NSS has launched a nationwide campaign on AIDS Awareness called "Universities Talk AIDS" (UTA) which has earned international attention and appreciation.
Community service rendered by university and +2 level students has covered several aspects like adoption of villages for intensive development work, carrying out the medico-social surveys, setting up of medical centres, programmes of mass immunization, sanitation drives, adult education programmes for the weaker sections of the community, blood donation, helping patients in hospitals, helping inmates of orphanages and the physically handicapped etc. NSS volunteers did commendable relief work during natural calamities/emergencies such as cyclones, floods, famine, earthquake, etc from time to time all over the country. The NSS students have also done useful work in organising campaigns for eradication of social evils, and popularization of the nationally accepted objectives like nationalism, democracy, secularism, social harmony and development of scientific temper.
The Main Objectives of NSS:
• Understand the community in which they work
• Understand themselves in relation to their community
• Identify the needs and problems of the community and involve them in problem-solving
• Develop among themselves a sense of social and civic responsibility
• Utilize their knowledge in finding practical solutions to individual and community problems
• Develop competence required for group-living and sharing of responsibilities
• Gain skills in mobilizing community participation
• Acquire leadership qualities and democratic attitudes
• Develop capacity to meet emergencies and natural disasters and
• Practice national integration and social harmony