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New Delhi: The magnificent auditorium of Maharaja Agrasen College, Delhi University, reverberated with applause and cheers on the evening of September 16. It was the venue for NDTV’s exclusive ‘Townhall’ program, titled ‘Make India No 1: The AK Blueprint’ where Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal received a splendid welcome.
The approbation, however, began dimming towards the end of the show when two students from the audience questioned the chief minister on the issue of classes not being held because the teachers of 12 Delhi University (DU) colleges, which fall under the Delhi government, had not received their salaries. In response, Kejriwal claimed ignorance, saying, “It was not in my knowledge. If it is so, I will get it done.”
Was the Delhi chief minister really unaware of the issue? Was he unaware of the many protests by DU teachers that took place outside his residence? And above all, was he unaware of the promises he made to the principals of these 12 colleges?
Taking a few steps back in time might refresh everyone’s memory.
There are 12 colleges in DU which fall under the Delhi government’s purview and are supposed to be fully funded by it. The Wire talked to various teachers from these colleges and the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) to understand the genesis of the problem.
Bhupinder Chaudhary, an associate professor at Maharaja Agrasen College where the NDTV programme was held, said, “This issue of irregular salaries has existed for nearly two-and-a-half to three years now. Before that, we had never faced such a problem.”
“If by chance there was some delay in the grant from the Delhi government,” Chaudhary continued, “the colleges used to manage the issue locally. It would take loans from the Student Society Fund (SSF) to pay the salaries of teachers and staff and would repay them once the grant was released by the Delhi government.”
Since 1994, when all 12 of these colleges were opened, they have been collecting money from students for various reasons – the girls’ common room, a bicycle stand, sports, library and so on, under the SSF. The amount actually spent on these facilities was, however, minimal. The colleges began saving this money in fixed deposits and currently, every college has around Rs 12-15 crore.
Tussle between Delhi government and Centre
“Each of these colleges has a governing body which is responsible for its policy decisions, appointment of teachers and non-teaching staff, and so on,” Chaudhary continued. “It comprises 15 members, five of whom are from the university and college side – two university representatives, nominated by the vice-chancellor; two teacher representatives nominated on a rotational basis; and the principal of the college, who is a permanent member.”
“The remaining ten members are nominated by the Delhi government and their names are then sent for approval from the executive council of Delhi University. Once the body is finalised, all 15 members elect the chairman and treasurer of the governing body,” he said.
Chaudhary further explained how the fact that Delhi government representatives are required to be present in the governing body is responsible for the present situation. “The premise of the whole situation is very political. Since the majority of members of the governing body happen to be from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), around the year 2019, a confrontation began with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the centre.”
“Because of political pressure from the centre, Delhi University would not approve the names nominated by the Delhi government and hence, the colleges stopped constituting the governing bodies,” Chaudhary said. “For more than a year, there were no governing bodies. And in the absence of the ten nominees from the Delhi government, the remaining five have the mandate to govern the colleges. In this way, the BJP maintained its control over all of these colleges, keeping the AAP nominees away. And this invited a retaliation from (Delhi deputy chief minister) Manish Sisodia and others.”
The Delhi government responded to this by asking questions of the colleges, as Chaudhary details. “The Delhi government began finding loopholes in the system. It pointed out that many appointments made by the colleges, especially in my college, Maharaja Agrasen, had not been sanctioned by the Delhi government. For example, Agrasen college has a total of 118 permanent and ad hoc teachers and according to the Delhi government, only 67 of these posts are sanctioned.”
“They began alleging corruption and mismanagement of funds,” he continued, “and later demanded various kinds of audits from the college.”
Abha Dev Habib, a professor at Miranda House, told The Wire, “It is pertinent to note that these institutions have already submitted to three different audits, namely, an Internal Audit (conducted by auditors from the approved panel of DU), the ELFA Audit (conducted by the Delhi government) and the AGCR (conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General).”
“Why can’t the colleges get the various irregularities regularised?” Habib asked vociferously. “If colleges did not take prior sanction for the posts before hiring teachers and other karamcharis, they should now put a post-facto proposal for regularising those positions. That’s the only way to solve this issue. The teachers who were appointed then are not at fault. Why are their salaries being delayed?”
Rajib Ray, a professor at Kirori Mal College, pointed out how the Delhi government calls the teachers appointed to these unsanctioned posts ‘ghost teachers’. “I challenge them to find one ghost teacher. And what about those on the sanctioned posts? Why aren’t their salaries given?” Ray asked.
Habib also highlighted another ongoing tussle. “The Delhi government maintained that it would release an amount equal to the grant minus the money accumulated in the SSF. They want the colleges to utilise the SSF to pay the salaries of the teachers and other employees. But the colleges and the teachers believe that the SSF is the students’ money which should be used on them. It should not be used on a recurring payments like salaries.”
“This created a stalemate and the Delhi government started sending the grant minus the SSF amount,” Habib continued. “The amount was never sufficient to meet all the requirements. As a result, employees were not paid salaries on time.”
The teachers took the issue of the utilisation of the SSF to the Delhi high court where the University and Delhi government were made party to the case. The court, in its interim order, has asked the colleges not to use the SSF money for paying salaries on a permanent basis. However, the colleges could still take loans from the SSF and then repay them when the Delhi government releases grants.
When asked why DUTA and other teachers oppose the utilisation of the SSF for salaries, Narender Thakur, an associate professor at Bhim Rao Ambedkar College said, “Giving salaries is the responsibility of the government. Otherwise it would amount to introducing privatisation through the back door.”
Explaining this, Thakur said, “If a college begins collecting money from students to pay its teachers, it becomes a self-financing institution and ultimately, the fees will be increased. The government will continue to reduce the grants and will always ask the colleges to raise the fees. The matter is in court and until it is resolved, we demand the Delhi government release the grants in full.”
The DUTA Secretary’s Report for the year 2021-22 has released data on the approximate financial deficits of these 12 colleges.
Delayed salaries, debt trap and humiliation
“In Agrasen College, we haven’t received salaries for the past one-and-a-half months now,” Chaudhary said. “We got 50% for the month of July and nothing for August. Now, we are told that we won’t get anything until Diwali. By the time the next grant comes, 3.5 months’ salary will be due.”
“It becomes humiliating for us to borrow money from people, again and again, just to pay our children’s fees, EMIs and the like,” he continued. “It is completely demotivating. It ultimately affects the teaching-learning process and academic standards decline.”
On perks other than salaries, Thakur said, “Seventh pay commission arrears are pending for ad hoc teachers. Those who were promoted have not received their arrears. There has been no payment of medical bills for the last three years. There is a provision for children’s education allowance, which also has not been paid for the last three years. No leave travel concessions (LTC) have been reimbursed.”
“When the salaries are not paid on time, the perks are out of the question,” Thakur said.
Speaking to ad hoc teachers, The Wire found their ordeal to be even worse. Ritu, an assistant professor at B.R. Ambedkar College said, disheartened, “People who joined after me on the same post with the same qualification and same salary as mine have been able to build their homes and own cars. I can’t even imagine that because of my irregular salary. All my savings dried up during COVID. I don’t know if I can ever dream of owning a house.”
She noted that her nephew stays with her and that it is difficult even to manage his tuition fees.
Further, she said, “Since we are ad hoc employees, we cannot even think of medical reimbursements. We do the same amount of work as the permanent employees, at times even more, still we don’t get even half of the benefits. This is another kind of discrimination and humiliation we face.’”
“Frankly, I don’t remember the last time I bought fruits; the last time I could afford anar (pomegranate). When I go to buy fruits, I have to decide which ones I can afford. I earn around a lakh per month and this is my condition due to the delay in salaries. Imagine the condition of the non-teaching staff,” Ritu added.
Sarbeshwar, an assistant professor at the same college, told The Wire that many of the non-teaching staff are not able to enrol their children in private schools because of the irregularities in salary payment. “They don’t know if they will be able to pay the school fees on time,” he said.
According to Thakur, staff at B.R. Ambedkar College only received 75% of their salaries in August. “25% is still due. And the grant is going to come in October, so we will not even get September’s salary on time.”
Many teachers and staff took loans to pay off their COVID bills. And those bills have not been reimbursed till date.
“Senior teachers have exhausted all their savings. But the contractual employees or karamcharis don’t even have that ecosystem. How will they function? And if teachers are more worried about their salary, how will they teach?” asked Habib.
According to the teachers, the worst affected colleges are Maharaja Agrasen, Deen Dyal Upadhyay, Acharya Narendra Dev College, B.R. Ambedkar College and Keshav Mahavidyalaya. In Deen Dyal Upadhyay, even the electricity bills are reportedly pending.
Will students remain unaffected?
Habib pointed out that the non-payment of a teacher’s salary can have a detrimental impact on students. “Around 50-60% of teachers in DU are ad hoc. They are already not secure about their position. And on top of that, when they stop getting their salaries on time, imagine the pressure they face. Won’t it affect their teaching? Eventually, the quality of education will go down and this is a systemic failure.”
“Due to paucity of funds, infrastructure has been hit adversely,” Thakur said. “Post COVID, when the colleges needed IT-infrastructure like smart classrooms, better internet facilities, laptops and so on, we could not even think of that. When the colleges cannot afford salaries and medical expenses, these facilities are a distant dream.”
What of the Delhi government’s commitment to education?
When asked about the outlook of the Delhi government and the Union government towards education, Chaudhry candidly said, “I don’t find any difference between the BJP and AAP government when it comes to the broader picture of how the government should deal with education. The National Education Policy (NEP) that has been enfolding lately is the baby of the Union government and it is an absolute recipe for privatisation and dismemberment of universities like DU. And Kejriwal was the first CM to openly welcome this NEP and hail it as a milestone in education.”
“So, both BJP and AAP are at the same level when it comes to privatising education and treating it as a tradable commodity,” Chaudhary continued, “withdrawing resources from higher education and giving up the government’s responsibility towards it.”
Meanwhile, Habib asked, “Many public universities have died in the past because of such behaviour on the part of the governments. Do they want the same fate for Delhi University?”
False promises, short memories
“We have had so many protests,” Habib recalled. “Even in March, 2021, when COVID was at its peak, a lot of teachers came out on the roads. Around 800 teachers marched from DU to chief minister Kejriwal’s residence. In fact, we have lost a lot of teachers who had participated in these protests to the Delta wave of the pandemic.”
“In March, 2021, there was opening of a dialogue and Kejriwal promised the release of Rs 28 crore which was the deficit in funds for these 12 DU colleges. And today, he says he does not know?” Habib asked.
At the same time, Ray said, “Time and again, dharnas have taken place in front of his house. MPs and MLA have landed up at his home for this issue. There have been signature campaigns, Twitter campaigns and what not. After the teachers protested, he even promised the principals of these colleges that Rs 28 crore will be released as funds. But that Rs 28 crore never came. He has had more than three meetings with the principals and the university administration in the last few years and if today he says he is unaware, I am sorry to say but he needs to get checked for amnesia.”
The Wire reached out to the Kejriwal, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and lieutenant-governor Vinai Kumar Saxena but received no response.