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New Delhi: The teaching and non-teaching staff of 12 colleges of the University of Delhi (DU), fully funded by the Delhi government, have not received their salaries for several months. Teachers and students’ unions have accused the Arvind Kejriwal-led government of “arm-twisting” and of “playing a politics of fear with their livelihood” in its power tussle with the Union government.
The teaching and non-teaching staff of these colleges have sent a petition to Delhi lieutenant-governor (L-G) Anil Baijal, urging him to find a permanent solution to the funding issue while holding several protests and strikes in the last month. They say they have been facing extreme hardships due to the irregular payment of salaries, ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In response, the Delhi government, through its latest notification, promised to pay their employees only the salary component of the dues amassed up until February. This excludes the pending arrears, allowances, medical reimbursements and so on. Critics of the government have called this move an “election season gimmick”.
“Teachers are selling their cars, asking for money from their friends and relatives, leaving their jobs to become school teachers and being forced to use their fixed deposits to sustain themselves. Some of the teachers were even refused medical treatment by private hospitals during the pandemic. We didn’t even receive salaries during Diwali and New Year’s, when we are conventionally supposed to receive bonuses,” said Udaibir Singh, a faculty member at the Acharya Narendra Dev College (ANDC), one of the 12 affected colleges.
“We have been executing our jobs with the utmost honesty and salaries are our basic right. Why are we being humiliated like this? What is our fault? The worst affected are the pensioners who entirely depend on their pensions to run their livelihoods. My college has even used the student society fund to pay salaries for two months, which would be replenished after the college receives a grant, ” Singh continued.
On the other hand, the Delhi government has accused these 12 DU colleges of “gross financial mismanagement”, “corruption” and “ghost (unauthorised) recruitments”. However, despite three-level annual audits and special probes by the Delhi government, – including the latest one, the report on which will be released on February 2 – nothing concrete has been found to substantiate the government’s allegations, other than crores worth of accumulated student society funds, meant for student welfare activities, kept in fixed deposits by the concerned colleges.
A.K Bhagi, president of Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA), responded to the government’s allegations, saying, “No one is taking the student society funds home.” He further told The Wire that the Delhi government keeps changing the reason for not releasing the grants on time.
“In the first instance, they were ‘examining the requirement for the budgets’. Then in 2020, they put it on the ‘absence of the governing bodies in these colleges’. Subsequently, they alleged corruption and changed the funding patterns to a deficit basis while including the student activity fund as part of the government income. This was later rejected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) since the fund is only meant for student welfare activities,” Bhagi said.
Abha Dev Habib, former DUTA treasurer, told The Wire that the entire issue is a “power struggle” between the Union and state governments and highlighted how both the Union and DU have allowed the problem to fester, to the detriment of teachers and students.
“The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has completely gone wrong in dealing with the situation. We have never faced such an issue in the history of DU. No situation warrants them to go against employees. What does a class four employee have to do with the political conflicts between the state and central governments? It is also the responsibility of the principals of these institutions and the University of Delhi to ensure their employees are paid on time, but they too have done nothing to solve the crisis,” she said.
The Delhi government funds 28 DU colleges, out of which 12 are fully funded while the remaining 16 are only partially funded (5%) by the Delhi government.
The 12 fully-funded colleges are the Indira Gandhi Institute of Physical Education & Sports Science, Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, Shaheed Raj Guru College, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar College, Acharya Narendra Dev College, Bhagini Nivedita College, Keshav Maha Vidyalaya, Maharaja Agrasen College, Aditi Mahavidyalaya, Maharishi Balmiki College of Education and Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Science.
Origin of the issue
The origin of the controversy goes back to the formation of the governing bodies of these colleges. Since 2015, there has been a constant tussle between the Union and state governments over the composition of these bodies, with each accusing the other of malpractices.
The governing bodies comprise 15 members, of which five belong to the respective college, including the principal, two teachers (appointed on rotation) and two vice-chancellor’s nominees. Of the ten remaining members, the Delhi government independently selects five and chooses the other five from a list sent to it by DU. The government then sends the names of these ten members to the DU executive council for approval.
These governing bodies then nominate a chairman and a treasurer, who are conventionally from the state government.
Bhupinder Chaudhary, a faculty member at Maharaja Agrasen College, told The Wire that the stand-off turned ugly in 2020 when the DU executive council failed to approve the names sent by the government in a timely manner. As a result, truncated governing bodies with only five members were formed, with no representatives from the Delhi government.
These bodies then took several big decisions, including the appointments of principals and permanent faculty, which infuriated the Delhi government. The government thus issued a notification directing these bodies not to make any further appointments and stopping grants to the colleges until the governing bodies were fully formed.
However, Chaudhary continued, the above developments prompted the Delhi government to investigate other details surrounding these colleges until it found the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the establishment of these colleges, as per the National Education Policy of 1986. In this MoU, the colleges are supposedly meant to arrange funds and the state government is only meant to pay the difference.
“The crisis is rooted in the Delhi government’s argument that the MOU signed between these colleges and DU at the time of their formation suggested that these colleges should arrange their own funds and the government will only pay the deficit money to run the colleges, which never was the case as we have been receiving 100% funding for the last 30 years,” Chaudhary said.
“As a result, the government advised the colleges to use their student society funds to pay staff salaries. The colleges are of the opinion that it cannot be used for the purpose and moved court for a resolution. However, despite the matter being sub-judice, the Delhi government abruptly stopped funding the colleges,” Chaudhary continued. “Even if we go by the government’s proposal that it will only pay the deficit, it should at least release grants until the matter is resolved. Any deficit or surplus can be adjusted later.”
According to Sachin Narayanan, a faculty member at DU, “the devil lies in the MOU and the pattern of assistance thereafter, from both the centre as well as state, which must be made public.” He is of the opinion that the Ministry of Education (formerly known as the Ministry of Human Resource Development) should intervene and resolve the issue since it is responsible for the budgetary allocation to every state for education.
However, Bhagi denies the Union government’s role in the crisis, noting that such issues never came up in these colleges prior to the formation of the AAP government in Delhi. He also emphasised that the Delhi government continues to run the governing bodies of the 16 partially funded colleges, despite providing only 5% of the funds to those colleges.
“Our apprehension is that they simply want more control and power, for which they want to switch these colleges into the same pattern of funding as Delhi state universities; with a higher fee structure. They don’t want to run these colleges as per university and central ordinances and rules,” Bhagi said.
‘Hijacking DU colleges for political benefits’
According to Singh, who went to court over the issue in December, 2020, the government is trying to wrest control of these institutions from DU, as done in the case of the Delhi College of Art, an erstwhile DU college which was later made a part of Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD). Further, Singh alleged that this is being done by the AAP government to fulfill their poll promise of opening 20 new colleges in Delhi.
“The government has not been able to fulfill its poll promises of opening 20 new colleges. Hence, they want to bring these colleges under state control and implement the 85% Delhi quota as part of their populist politics to show Delhiites in the next election that they have done something in higher education as well,” he alleged.
He further claimed that the Delhi government is forcing its teaching and non-teaching staff in these institutions, through “fear and intimidation”, to mobilise stakeholders to switch to the AUD for stability and money.
Bhagi told The Wire that of these 12 colleges, seven got permanent campuses and the required infrastructure during Congress rule in the state while the five others, including Aditi Mahavidhayalya, Bhagini Nivedita College, Indira Gandhi Institute of Special Education (IISPE), Maharishi Valmiki College and Acharya Narendra Dev College, still operate from old school buildings with other make-shift arrangements and no proper infrastructure.
According to Bhagi, the AAP government has completely neglected these colleges, using their resources for political benefits without bringing about any development.
“The infrastructure in these colleges is on the verge of collapse and AAP has done nothing. Instead, they have taken over the land which was allotted to IISPE in Dwarka somewhere between 2013 and 2014 for a new building, supposedly to build their own educational institute,” Bhagi said. “The IISPE is a unique sports institute with a 100% record of placement, yet it doesn’t have proper infrastructure. It has a very small ground for all sports. The current Delhi government doesn’t care about DU colleges as they don’t benefit its politics.”
Similarly, Habib highlighted how the AAP government is trying to indulge in the politics of regionalism “to appease Delhi voters in the coming elections at the cost of ruining a university like DU”, which admits at least one-third of the new students every year from Delhi alone.
“We expected more from AAP. The party that boasts about an ‘education revolution’ has turned its teachers into beggars for mere political benefits. They had the budget to open 20 new colleges as per their manifesto. Yet, they want to repackage these existing institutions and launch them as their own. In the past, Delhi has greatly benefited from the presence of both the centre and state governments. This is unfortunate and sad politics by the AAP that they are not supporting education in the real sense but using it only for money and politics, like any other political party.” she said.
A faculty member at Deen Dayal Upadhyay College, on the condition of anonymity, told The Wire that Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, is personally involved in the issue because of which no one from the AAP government is willing to speak up or correct the mistakes. “It is merely a political issue, not an administrative one,” they said.
“Why is the Delhi government not releasing any data or statistics if they are so sure about financial mismanagement, ghost employees and corruption in these institutions? Instead, they have been releasing salaries only when the pressure builds up. If you are so sure of corruption, why are you tolerating it? You have the governing bodies, the state government. Why aren’t you doing anything about it?” the anonymous faculty member added.
AAP abandoning commitment to public education?
Singh told The Wire about how increasing fees and pushing privatisation in IP University and AUD have deteriorated the quality of education in these institutions, leading to seats being left vacant and courses being shut down.
“Why does the government want to do the same in DU? Haven’t they learned their lessons from AUD and IP, which used to receive so many applicants before such measures were taken?” he asked.
The insistence of the AAP government to use the student society fund to pay salaries, along with fee hike protests in Ambedkar University (AUD) while welcoming the National Education Policy, 2020, support the allegation that the AAP government is trying to turn these colleges into self-financing institutions with higher fees, going against the logic of ‘public education for all’ which it seem to be employing at the school level.
“You have the full right to ensure the full utilisation of the funds. You can instruct these colleges not to hike fees or spent the money, but you can’t ask them to pay salaries using the student society fund. The fund is meant to help students in cultural activities; to aid students from lower-income strata; to buy sports equipment; run special classes and provide facilities to them,” said Habib.
Chaudhary alleged that the Delhi government has no commitment towards higher education and it is merely their “political calculations” which have made them work towards school education.
“It is all political calculations. Their vote bank, which was consolidated through free electricity and water, is the one that avails their quality school education. I am happy about that, but they must also think about middle classes and society at large where higher education has a very important role to play,” he said.
Another faculty member of Maharaja Agrasen College, requesting anonymity, told The Wire that the AAP government is not serious about higher education, alleging that it often appoints non-academic personnel to the governing bodies of these colleges as favours to those who help them during elections.
“One person who was appointed in the governing body in my college was running a transport agency and was involved with the Delhi government in its Teerat Yatra Yojana. Anyone, in the name of social work, including businessmen and retired personnel over the age of 70, gets appointed as members of these governing bodies,” the faculty member said.
Similarly, Singh told The Wire about how he has written to the Delhi government-appointed chairperson of the governing body in his college over suspected corruption and financial mismanagement in the ‘In-Start Incubation Centre’ which is being run by the Delhi government and DU at ANDC. He has not received any response from the government yet, which he believes “shows the government’s (lack of) commitment towards higher education and fighting corruption”.
“Six teachers have become directors and are running it like a company in the college, giving jobs to their relatives. However, the same Delhi government that accuses our college of financial mismanagement and doesn’t pay our salaries, is silent on this issue. Why?” he asked.
What is the solution?
Bhagi, while reaffirming his belief in public education, told The Wire that he wants the Delhi government to abandon its “myopic vision and be large-hearted to accept DU employees and students as their own kids.”
Similar, Habib said, “There might be instances where the college might have opened new courses and expanded the number of faculty members while awaiting sanctions, putting them onto default lists, but that doesn’t mean that the teaching and non-teaching staff must be penalised for executive decisions taken by college authorities. The Delhi government must not make it an ego issue out of this.”
Singh, taking inspiration from the recently-concluded farmer’s movement, requested the Delhi government to solve the crisis at the earliest as the unrest among the teachers is rising. “We cannot always go to court. The Delhi government must stick to the 30-year-old practice of providing 100% funding in the interest of higher education and society at large,” he said.
Chaudhary, while mentioning that his college has Rs 14 crore in its student society fund, offered his support to the Delhi government’s efforts to ensure the full utilisation of funds. However, he requested the government to solve the crisis at the earliest. “Any political conflict must be resolved at a political level only and educational institutions must not become instruments for politics,” he said.
Despite several attempts by The Wire, there was no response from the Delhi government or its officials on the issue.