Teachers' Pay Parity Row Leads to Demands for Central University Status for Panjab University

Teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as other stakeholders, are divided vis-a-vis the move, however, most agree that the Punjab government should increase the retirement age of teachers and implement the 7th Pay Commission, regardless.

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Jalandhar: Alarmed over the simmering anger and protests against the proposal to afford ‘Central University’ status to the historic Panjab University (PU), Chandigarh, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, on June 19, finally wrote a letter to Union home minister Amit Shah demanding that the status quo of PU be maintained as per the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966.

Chief minister Mann’s move came nearly 10 days after a collection of nine PU, Chandigarh students’ unions clashed with the Chandigarh Police while on their way to meet governor Banwarilal Purohit.

On June 9, the students’ unions had called for protest against the proposed move, which is likely to become a major political issue in the coming days.

The clash had led to sharp reactions from opposition parties in the state, such as the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership remained mum on the issue, as did the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the state, avoiding any immediate reaction.

Only on June 12, three days after the students’ protest, did Punjab education minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer tweet in support of PU.

The chief minister has invited the students’ unions for a meeting on June 29 in Chandigarh in this regard.

Mann writes letter to Amit Shah

On June 19, Mann wrote a letter to home minister Shah stating that for some time, certain vested interests have been trying to push to turn PU into a Central University and that they even approached the courts for the same.

In the letter, the chief minister wrote: “At the time of the reorganisation of the state of Punjab in 1966, Panjab University was declared as an ‘Inter State Body Corporate’ under Section 72 (1) of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, enacted by the Parliament. The status of Panjab University was affirmed in CWP No.8025 of 2007, titled Dr A.C. Julka and others versus Panjab University & others.”

Recently, the Punjab and Haryana high court, in CWP No.10775 of 2022, has sought a conscious decision from the Union ministers of home affairs and education on the issue of converting Panjab University into a Central University.

Also read: Almost Half of All Central Universities Functioning Without a Regular Vice-Chancellor

As per sub-section (4) of Section 72 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, the maintenance deficit grant to the university was to be shared and paid by Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and UT Administration of Chandigarh in the ratio of 20:20:20:40. However, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh decided to withdraw from this sharing arrangement.

Thus, from 1976 onwards, Punjab and Chandigarh have borne the financial responsibility of paying maintenance deficit grants to the university in the ratio of 40:60.

The government of Punjab is presently giving grant-in-aid of Rs 42 crore to the university annually, besides nearly Rs 100 crore annually collected by the university from the affiliated colleges located in Punjab.

In his letter to Shah, Mann further wrote: “It has been learned that the central government is examining the feasibility of converting PU into a Central University. PU is a symbol of Punjab’s legacy and is synonymous with Punjab. The university caters only to Punjab and its capital Chandigarh, which, on account of historical reasons, happens to be a UT. Therefore, there exists no reason to alter the character of the university into a Central one.”

“It is important that the extant legal and administrative status of PU be preserved by the Government of India and time tested and well-functioning arrangement is not altered in any manner,” the chief minister wrote further, adding that any decision to the contrary would not be acceptable to the people of Punjab.

High court’s observations on PU

On May 29, the Punjab and Haryana high court, while addressing a petition by Sangeeta Bhalla, a faculty member of PU, directed the Union government, through the home and education ministries, to consider converting PU into a Central University.

Justice Rajbir Shehrawat, hearing the matter, had said that as per the Panjab University Act, PU  was an inter-state body corporate, leaving the university and its affiliated colleges out of the ambit of the Union government’s service rules.

The next hearing in the case is slated to take place on August 30.

Notably, the MHA had issued a notification on March 29, 2022, implementing Central Civil Service Rules in all departments of Chandigarh, pushing the demand for the conversion of PU into a Central University.

However, it did not cover PU Chandigarh, as a result of which the retirement age of teachers would remain 60 years as per Punjab government rules, as compared to 65 years under Union government rules, forcing them to take legal course.

PU student unions oppose the move

PU student unions have been strongly opposing the proposed move.

Following the June 9 protest, Amandeep Singh, state secretary of Punjab Student Union (Lalkar) handed over a memorandum to the Punjab governor demanding for the state government to “restore Punjab’s full control over PU, Chandigarh and the cancellation of National Education Policy (NEP), 2020”.

“The central government is attacking the rights of Punjab. PU Chandigarh is the historic legacy of undivided Punjab and a name to reckon with in quality education across the country,” Singh said. “Historically and geographically, Punjab alone has the right over PU. But for the past some time, central government has been trying to take control of PU and convert it into a Central University.”

“To take away this university is to weaken Punjab intellectually and academically,” he continued. “Bringing PU under the centre’s control means to further hollow out Punjab’s claim over Chandigarh. PU is the last link between Punjab and Chandigarh and the AAP government should buckle up before it is too late.”

Singh said that whether it was increasing the jurisdiction of Border Security Force (BSF) in border districts; implementing Centre Service Rules in Chandigarh; the Bhakra Beas Management Row (BBMB) row; the Dam Safety Bill, 2021 or the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab, the Union government’s moves show that it is clearly functioning against Punjab’s rights.

Also read: MHA Extends BSF’s Jurisdiction in Border States, Triggers Political Storm in Punjab

Similarly, opposing the centralisation of PU, Sandeep Kumar, president of Students for Society (SFS) said, “It took over 10 days for the Punjab chief minster to break his silence over such a sensitive issue. This shows the approach of the AAP government in addressing the core issues of Punjab.”

“When student unions led a protest on June 9, we were lathi charged and manhandled by the UT Police. Nobody from the Punjab government came to hear us. Only two officials came, which included an officer from Punjab governor’s office and a UT Police officer,” Kumar continued.

Kumar also said that behind such a move is the Union government’s policy of promoting privatisation, centralisation and saffronisation of education, which they are doing gradually through the National Education Policy.

He also asked that if Central Universities were such a success, why were their teachers protesting for regularisation and working on ad-hoc?

“Even Delhi University’s 4,500 teachers have been protesting for regularisation. The same is the case of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). A section of teachers of PU are misleading everybody that Central University status will get them huge funds, but these are false claims,” he said, adding that all political parties in Punjab should come together to save PU and permanently settle this matter.

Also read: Amid ‘Saffronisation’ Claims, Karnataka Govt Doubles Down on Textbook Syllabus Changes

PU teaching and non-teaching staff divided

The PU’s teaching and non-teaching staff stands clearly divided on the proposed move. While the non-teaching employees are strictly against this move, the teaching fraternity, further, stands divided.

Among the teachers, a section is in favour of the move whereas the rest are making two demands: First, to increase the retirement age of teachers to 65 years from the existing 60 years; and second, the implementation of 7th Pay Commission.

President of the Panjab University Teachers’ Association (PUTA), Mrityunjay Kumar said, “There is no doubt that PU Chandigarh is a historic varsity with its roots in Lahore, Pakistan. But what is the point of talking about legacy when there is no pay parity for teachers?”

“While Central Service Rules are applicable in Chandigarh UT, we have been left out of this benefit. Punjab government talks big but it has been contributing only Rs 42 crore to PU’s annual budget. The central government, on the other hand, is contributing Rs 250 crore annually and remaining Rs 200 crore revenue comes from the affiliated colleges of PU,” he continued.

Mrityunjay Kumar also said that PUTA held its general body meeting on May 4 where a consensus was reached that there was ‘no need for Central University status for PU’.

“But if the Punjab government is serious, then it should streamline its education policy, increase the retirement age to 65 and give us 7th Pay Commission. Only then can they force the Union government to reconsider the move. We are working with different stakeholders and expect a meeting with government in this regard shortly,” he said.

On the other hand, president of the Panjab University Staff (Non-Teaching) Association, Honey Thakur wrote a letter to the Vice-President Venkiah Naidu and the PU chancellor on June 21, requesting the government “not to implement the Central Service Rules in respect of non-teaching employees of PU, Chandigarh’.

The association also attached the signatures of 2,112 non-teaching employees who do not want the Centre Service Rules to be implemented in PU.

“If PU, Chandigarh is converted into a Central University, non-teaching employees will suffer undue financial loss as the pay scales of the Central government are lower than those of the Punjab government, under which they were being governed,” Thakur said.

Thakur emphasised that the Union government cannot implement the Central Service Rules without getting the stakeholders – Punjab government and non-teaching employees – into confidence because, as per the existing rules, the Punjab government is also contributing towards the annual budget of the university, hence it has a stake in it.

Faculty members speak

Talking to The Wire, Kulwinder Singh, a faculty member of the University School of Business, PU, Chandigarh, said that a larger section of the teaching employees is in favour of the enhancement of the retirement age to 65 and the implementation of 7th pay commission.

He said that PU has 650 teachers, against the sanctioned strength of 1,368.

“Out of 650 only, 100 teachers were in favour of converting PU into a Central University. Recently, over 500 teachers sent their signatures to home minister Shah demanding the PU’s status not be changed. On the other hand, the 100 teachers who were in favour of the move were trying to convince other teachers to support their call,” he said.

On the ongoing move, Kulwinder Singh highlighted some key points about how it will be a huge loss for the university and for Punjab.

He said that PU will lose Rs 200 crore of its annual revenue which it earns from the 190 affiliated colleges in Punjab; the 2 lakh students in PU colleges will be forced to get affiliated with other state universities; Punjab’s share in the PU would be affected as Central Universities have a ‘board of governors’ instead of the senate; self-finance courses would be done away with; and admissions would be done on the basis of a pan-India examination, leaving students from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana in the lurch.

“In the name of centralisation, it is sheer injustice with Punjab. Without the consent of Punjab, the central government cannot make any such decision,” he added.

Advocate Dyal Partap Singh Randhawa, a senate member,  said that PU’s standing should not be compromised because of petty politics.

“PU, Chandigarh is the fourth oldest institution of higher learning in the country, after the three presidency colleges of India. People had spent money from their own pockets to establish PU on the land of Punjab. It is the collective responsibility of the state and the central government to solve this issue. The Punjab government in particular has a direct role and should come forward to save PU,” Randhawa said.

History of Panjab University, Chandigarh

PU, Chandigarh is state and Union government funded university. One of the oldest universities of the country, it was founded in Lahore, the erstwhile capital of united Punjab and present-day Pakistan, on October 14, 1882.

Post Partition, the university was shifted from Lahore to Hoshiarpur, and then to Chandigarh, the present capital of Punjab. It was established on October 1, 1947. The university has 73 teaching and research departments, institutes and centres, besides four independent chairs for research.

The university has regional centres at Sri Muktsar Sahib, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur and Kauni in Punjab. About 190 colleges of Punjab are affiliated with PU, Chandigarh.

Noted alumni of PU, Chandigarh include former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; noted author Khushwant Singh; former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj; Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman to go to space; Former IPS and Delhi L-G Kiran Bedi; businessman Sunil Bharti Mittal; Actress Gul Panag; BJP leader and Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher; and Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, to name a few.