New Delhi: The Delhi University Teachers’ Association has alleged that DU vice-chancellor Yogesh Tyagi has diverted a little over Rs 4 crore that had been collected from staff members for the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance & Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) fund without any consultation.
In a letter to the VC, the DUTA president Rajib Ray and secretary Rajinder Singh said that the university registrar had requested all DU employees to contribute one day’s salary (basic + dearness allowance) from the month of March, 2020, to the VC’s Relief Fund “from where the consolidated contribution will then be submitted to the PMNRF”.
“However, much to our shock, we came to know from your message to [the] alumni of Delhi University that the consolidated contributions have been submitted by the University to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES) instead of PMNRF,” the DUTA office bearers said.
Several DU teachers with whom The Wire spoke confirmed that none of them was consulted before the university took this decision. “We initially thought that Tyagi may have made the donation to PM-CARES from some other university fund. But then his message to the alumni confirmed that our donations to PMNRF were routed to PM-CARES,” a professor at DU told The Wire.
In the message to alumni that both DUTA and other university teachers spoke about, Tyagi says, “The university has responded promptly to the call for national service. The faculty and staff members of all departments and constituent colleges of the University have collectively contributed their one day’s salary, amounting to more than four crore rupees, to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund. We intend to do a lot more in the near future as well.”
He then goes on to say how DU is contributing at multiple levels to India’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
The DUTA said that DU employees have frequently provided assistance (both financial or otherwise) during national tragedies. However, Tyagi’s unilateral decision to divert the funds from PMNRF to PM-CARES, it said, amounts to a breach of trust between employees and the university administration.
“Historically, we have provided financial assistance to the PMNRF or Chief Minister’s Relief Fund either through local Staff Associations or through the Vice Chancellor Relief Fund (as in the present case).
This has efficiently worked out most times because of trust and transparency between the employee, college and the University. It is extremely unfortunate to note that in the present case, this transparency has been violated. It is totally unacceptable that an appeal is made by the University for contributions under one head (PMNRF) and in reality the contribution is submitted to another head (PM-CARES).
Such acts of misdirection shake our faith in the professional working of the University. Why were the employees not informed that their contributions would be sent to PM-CARES?
Why were contributions collected in the name of PMNRF? All employees have the right to know at the very least that their contributions will be made to that authority in whose name the contributions were solicited,” the DUTA said.
The controversy surfaced soon after the registrar, in a letter dated March 29, 2020, urged all university employees to make voluntary contributions, amounting to one day’s salary, to the PMNRF. Some DU teachers said that although the letter had only urged staff members to make voluntary contributions, several colleges allegedly made it compulsory.
“In many DU colleges, teachers and non-teaching staff have not been getting their salaries regularly. It was very difficult for them to make a donation. Yet, most college administrations made the registrar’s recommendation sound like a directive,” an assistant professor who teaches at the DU south campus told The Wire.
The registrar’s instructions came a day after the University Grants Commission (UGC), the governing body of all central universities, sent a letter to all varsities to urge all teaching and non-teaching staff to donate to the PMNRF. The UGC chairman D.P. Singh’s letter was issued on March 28, 2020, the day when the PM-CARES fund was constituted but had not yet started functioning.
However, within days the UGC quietly modified its appeal for donations, asking the central university employees to contribute to PM-CARES, instead of PMNRF.
The Telegraph reported that soon after the first appeal on March 28, the UGC sent emails to central universities asking that the contributions be made to the PM CARES Fund.
Confirming the development, the UGC Chairman D.P.Singh told the daily, “In my [original] appeal I had said that UGC staff had decided to donate to the PMNRF and appealed to university staff to donate towards the fight against COVID-19. The PM-CARES fund was started later.”
The Delhi University VC’s unilateral decision to divert the funds to PM-CARES appears to be a direct fallout of this UGC circular. It also becomes apparent that the Union human resource development ministry (MHRD), too, has had a role to play in putting pressure on UGC to advocate contributions to PM-CARES instead of PMNRF.
According to a DU official who spoke to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, the VC changed his decision on the basis of directions from MHRD. “After the DU registrar’s appeal had gone out, we subsequently received a communication from MHRD, and were asked to send the money to PM-CARES,” the official told the daily, while confirming that Rs 4.04 crore had been transferred to the new fund.
Speaking to The Wire, Saikat Ghosh, an DU professor who is an elected representative to the university’s academic council said that a large section of the academic community is quite uncomfortable with the diversion of funds.
“The VC’s decision to divert the money to PM-CARES, after we voluntarily contributed to PMNRF, is not merely unilateral but also disingenuous. The new directives by the UGC or MHRD that the university must have received must have only recommended that the donations be sent to the new fund. However, the VC has followed it like a directive,” he said.
The DU VC, Yogesh Tyagi, could not be reached for a comment.
The PM CARES fund has come under sustained attacks from opposition members and a large section of civil society for replacing the PMNRF, a fund started in 1948, as the primary resource to tackle disasters and calamities.
From the looks of it, PM-CARES is a NGO-like charitable fund that may not be liable to public audits as it can’t be regulated like some public trusts. Moreover, the new fund is not governed by any constitutional office.
Apart from the prime minister who is heading the fund, the other three trustees are not from any opposition party. For a fund which is dealing with crores of rupees as donations, it has been constituted on a very weak and shaky legal foundation.
The workings of PMNRF, on the other hand, are much more transparent as it is a dedicated government fund to meet exigencies.