Prof. Me'raj Ud Din Mir, VC Central University of Kashmir shares his thoughts with Greater Kashmir Correspondent Syed Rizwan Geelani.
Here are the excerpts:
GK: CUK came into being years back but it is still functioning without a proper campus. As a Vice Chancellor how do you see it?
VC: It is a relevant question, we came into beading in 2009 but there were some issues, and everything was put on hold, and finally the activity was started in 2010-2011. In any case we have seven years of academic activity now. Well, every university has two important aspects. First, that you rightly pointed out, is to have its own house, own physical infrastructure, and equally important is that of academic.
Since I am associated with it for 4-5 years, I must confess and admit that so far physical infrastructure is concerned, I have failed as it has not come up till date as per the expectations of people. But on the other side, I am happy that we are on the top in term of academics in comparison with other universities which were born with us. So far as quality education, quality of appointment of teachers and number of programmes is concerned, we figure among top universities despite the fact that we are working in rented accommodation. This is the reality.
Why this has not come up?
VC: I have been in a position to bring it into the notice of all the stake holders that the quality of the land measuring 5000 kanals allotted to us is very poor. It has very low load bearing capacity and we tried our best to engage the experts across the country who went for soil testing. There were some issues with the soil testing initially with CPWD and various other agencies. Finally experts came to the conclusion that there must be pile work. As per their estimation pile work is around 20 meters and it was decided that we must go for pre engineered structures. As I said our endeavor was that to have own campus. In order to shift to the campus we managed to go for Pre Engineered (PE) structures but it also faced its own difficulties. Normally we have to follow certain codal procedures like engaging Project Management Corporation (PMC). We engaged NBCC as our PMC which later engaged various contractors after floating tenders at all India level. Structure has been raised but there have been some bottle necks because of some given circumstances. In 2016 skilled laborers left due to the summer unrest of 2016. Only some of them have come back. Second, there was resistance from local people who created hindrances in construction work due to which NBCC failed to give their commitment. Later State administration intervened and took keen interest in it. All came around the table and finally NBCC gave commitment to hand over PE structures within 6 months which is most probably in July this year. Then University also ventured with another agency known as NPCC and we also allotted work to them for raising PE structures. But, regarding the phase Ist of construction work for which we have to go for piling, the work stands allotted to NBCC and we have taken matter with top officials of NBCC to expedite the work. We are facing local issues which we have brought to the notice of local administration. We need filling of earth for which we need some source. NBCC engaged contractor perhaps at the cost of 34 crores and for this matter they needed some earth. Source was identified and the contractor purchased the earth as well but the local people created many issues.
What are the hindrances you are facing in Ganderbal?
Actually the land has been taken from the locals years back. I have been with them and they say they have been given a promise that they will be given jobs. But when it was brought to our notice I assured them that once the university comes up, local jobs like plumbing, or any other post will be created, be it skilled or unskilled. Out of 10 I will give seven to the locals of Ganderbal. I know this is not the procedure, but since it was their means of livelihood I told them we will have special dispensation for you. But the posts will rise only when the building comes up. If the building didn't come up there won't be any jobs. I requested them to allow me to raise the buildings.
You will be glad to know that our admissions take place at All India level and we have students from outside state but from past two years no body from outside state has been in a position to seek admission because of the given circumstances. But I took a pro active step for Ganderbal students and reserved one supernumerary seat in each programme for students who hail from Ganderbal. The students from Ganderbal are at liberty to compete in open and then they are at liberty to compete within. 20 seats are reserved for district Ganderbal.
How long will the students have to wait for the campus experience?
Of late, we established our own construction wing. Subject to the condition that there is no hindrance like if my engineer is beaten up he can't work there. We have engaged local consultant as well who will advise us to go for barrack type construction. We have consultant from Delhi for main campus construction whom we have to request 10 times to come here. Even if they visit here, their stay is confined to one night or two, that is why we engaged local consultant. Barrack type will be again a temporary phase for 20-30 years, or whatever the life span is. The basic endeavor is to meet the expectations of the society that we want to shift. If our local construction agency made some progress we may be in a position to shift our academic activity to the campus within a year or so. I have asked them to have model barrack first. Later we can have a chain of horizontal barracks.
Despite the huge delay, why you still want to go for temporary barracks.
Because of quality of soil. It may go for five years. As per our master plan it will not take less than five years to complete any building. We are paying huge amount by way of rent. In case we are in a position to raise horizontal constructions, whatever we are paying as rent, we shall be in a position to recoup it within 4-5 years and more or less its expected life will be 25 years. It can continue to be our transit camps and in fact it is done like this in every University. We can have new programmes in them meanwhile we can shift to main buildings in phased manner.
What is the present status of construction?
Two P E blocks have come up and final touches are taking place. There has been some negligence on part of NBCC, but a committee was constituted to rectify the errors. They have rectified it in block II and in block I they are going to rectify it. It will not take too much time to handover those two buildings.
What was the Project cost of the Campus?
We had divided it into four phases. First phase was of Rs 400 crores. Obviously once we are in a position to utilize the money released in first phase by 2-3 buildings there would have been a scope to seek additional funds. But out of those 400 crore I have not been able to utilize even Rs 100 crore including salary of the staff. So there is no scope for additional grants.
GK: How you manage payment of rent. I mean in which account the amount is reflected?
We reflect it in our budget. Even if I incur a single penny I have to reflect it in the budget. For your information, our accounts are audited by three agencies – Internal, External and the government. Finally it goes to parliament of India and we get audit objections whenever there is any imbalance, they identify it. For example if I travel to attend some seminar, I won't get the amount if boarding card is not attached to the bill.
How do you manage hostel facility for students.
I have a problem in it. I notified two skill-based new programmes which got a good response. I had an intention to keep that in Ganderbal as I got all the students from the district. But the problem is that I didn't get accommodation in Ganderbal. Finally they are being accommodatd in Nowgam. Now, present divisional Commissioner has assured us that they will provide some space in Ganderbal Physical College.
During his visit to Ganderbal former CM Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed proposed to give a major chunk of land at some alternate place. What is the status of that proposal?
From Srinagar to New Delhi I took up the matter with everyone that the quality of land is poor; though not impossible but constriction is very difficult and very expensive. Former CM, Mufti Muhammad Syaeed Sahab was kind enough to visit the site. In fact my plea with him was to provide alternate quality land in Ganderbal. But the issue was misinterpreted that government is planning to shift the university; it was not to be shifted. It was ordered that 1000 kanal land will be given in the foothills in the nearby area which was identified. The land is in possession with animal husbandry. The issue is lying with administration and animal husbandry department. I requested Sajad Lone sahab and now Kohli Sahab, but nothing has come up so far. Providing land at alternate site is a part of Ganderbal District Development Board meeting, this land has to be transferred to us. My idea was if we get the land, we can utilize the funds which were allotted to us which unfortunately are not with us anymore.
Who is to be blamed for the delay in construction?
It is the question which I can't answer rightly but you have every right to blame VC of this University( smiles). I will not pass the buck to anyone.
CUK lost a major chunk of amount released by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), why couldn't CUK utilize the money?
Another difficulty we faced was that the MHRD through UGC had sanctioned a good chunk of money for us. We had a good chunk of money in our pockets to raise the construction but unfortunately we couldn't incur any expenditure upto the 31 March 2017. Obviously MHRD and UGC took a stand and said money was not meant to be kept in pockets and finally the money was diverted to other universities. That is another setback to us. Now, I have to again go with a begging bowl to MHRD and UGC for funds. Here again I can seek funds only if I am allowed to work at campus. If things didn't work then I am afraid, we shall not be in position to shift to Ganderbal.
Apart from infrastructure, when we talk about academics, are there any new courses the university is offering beyond the courses already offered by KU and IUST?
We have moved a proposal to have new courses. But again the limitation is our accommodation. I must confess and admit that I am not in a position to face my students because I have not been able to provide them the facilities which they deserve in the university. Academics is not the only component, there is ambiance, which I am not in position to provide to them.
How do you monitor three campuses?
I am mobile and my habit is that I am always on the move. Without giving any notice I visit these places and most important thing is that our faculty is hard working and this is the only University where you have senior persons in place who have far better experience to manage the departments. Even if you ask anyone in the Valley about his choice for seeking admissions, everyone will prefer to come to CUK. I may be biased but you can do a survey and find it yourself. It is because we have a dedicated team of seniors and young teachers. Today the number of enrolled students has reached up to 1500. It is a big number and again we are on higher side. The reason is that the students are being engaged in various academic activities by their teachers. Tests are conducted regularly. We take care of attendance. This university was most hit by the floods and the turmoil as well, but our calendar is intact. Exams were held in time and results declared as per schedule. Perhaps there was a delay of 15 days because of five month long strike in 2016. We worked in winter amid heavy snowfall. In case students are absent for two days, teachers raise queries about it.
As the students don't have an on campus feeling. Do they have any access to the administration to highlight their grievances, if they have any?
Again you have raised a good question but you can see VC and Registrar of this University are easily accessible to students. We entertain SMS, phone calls and emails from students. My phone number is with every student. Even if they don't come here physically we attend their calls and do respond to them. They can come to me without any appointment.
CUK is comparatively a new university than KU and IUST. What unique features does your university have to attract students?
We are time bound. Be it admission, conduct of exams and results, it is time bound. We have senior and junior faculty. Their conversions help the students. We have been in a position to provide quality education in every department and our dropout rate is very insignificant except in one department for which I am taking due care to overcome it.
Does CUK have a placement cell?
Our placement is very well in most of the department like Law, Tourism, English and Urdu. Placement is on the higher side. We also depute the students to other universities of the country as we don't have facilities available in the university. My Chancellor, Prof. Srikumar Banerjee has taken a keen interest and we are going to depute 10 students from each science department and management department to various IITs in the country. We will have to bear the travel cost and the rest of the hospitality and academic component shall be taken care of by the respective IITs. Another important feature of the campus is that we have already introduced five integrated programmes in Zoology, Bio-technology, Physics and Mathematics which proved to be very successful. We are planning to introduce PG Physical Education. My only problem is that of accommodation.
Apart from the courses already existing in KU and IUST, what are the new courses you are offering to students here?
There is repetition of all courses. But the courses offered here are in a good demand.
There are a number of places in the State like Chenab Valley, Pir Panjal region and Kargil which don't have good higher educational institutions. Shouldn't CUK set up campuses in these areas to reach out to the people who are not getting quality education?
It can't be done at this stage. We need to have strong base for all this, then only we can reach to these areas. We have students from Kargil and Ladakh but we can't set up campuses at these places. We are planning to have national seminar in Leh which will be conducted in collaboration with national tourism department of India.
CUK is mostly known as house of elders. How will you react to it?
You are right when you say this is house of elders. We are privileged by this. You take up any University, for instance KU. When it was established, people from outside state universities were called here to work. Retirement age at CUK is 65 and there is no harm to take any experienced person who gets retired at the age of 62 in other university. They have faced all the selection committee in past and here again they face the same. Their presence here is additional feature of the campus.
There are reports of favouristim and nepotism in the university in the recruitment of staff and most of the staff members are found to be the kith and kin of people who have held top posts in Kashmir University. What is the varsity doing to promote transparency and accountability?
You are right that there is a human weakness but I don't admit what you are saying. Everything has its own process but the human weakness is that if you have 10 candidates and out of them only one is taken nine will say that there has been some hanky-panky. But we are accountable to somebody and there is a set procedure for it. In case you have a specific example to prove that any kith and kin have been accommodated here, I will explain the process vis-a-viz the selection of that specific person. I must say these are just baseless allegations.
People have a notion that the contractual staff in CUK is overburdened as permanent staff fails to do justice with the students?
Not at all, that is why I said that one of the features of CUK is that we provide quality education to the students and believe me I am a mobile person and I have a copy of time table of every department with me. We seek explanation from senior Professors if not found in class. They can't pass the work on contractual. It is not the case that senior people are enjoying and contractual staff is managing the show.
What has been the contribution of CUK in terms of research in terms of its relevance?
I told you at the beginning that I am week in terms of infrastructural facilities but I am proud to say that we are strong in academics, including research. Research is a long process. We have produced some scholars in Urdu, English and other subjects and almost the huge chunk are registered with Professors. We have also good number of people who have done JRF and some have post doctorate in Science faculty. We have also some teachers who got projects from UGC. If not strong but we are marching ahead so far as this research is concerned.
How you check plagiarism?
We have mechanism for it. Recently MHRD released a survey for ranking of Universities and I am surprised to know that I stand between 100s, which is too much for us. Among the newly Central Universities we are on the forefront.
Do you think the research done by scholars from CUK has some applicability in current times?
It is a question which I can't answer but society has the power to check as to what extent our research is applicable here. It is important to have relevance.
How the placement cell works in CUK?
It is managed by senior faculty, a member who has a team which comprises faculty members from various departments, and some companies come here and make placements. At times we depute our placement officer along with the students whenever they get a call from any company. We also motivate students to sit in various competitive exams and most of them have qualified, and placement has been done in this process.
Has the varsity increased the intake capacity over the years?
It has increased. During 2016 agitation we came to know that people migrated to other parts and they didn't get admission in quality institutions. Later I convened a meeting of all heads of the departments and we increased intake capacity by five seats in each department. Of late we have raised intake capacitt, and I am happy to say that our intake in almost all departments is good.
Former Minister for education would say that universities are producing liabilities for the state. Do you agree with this?
It is very easy to say, but difficult to do things practically. If we are producing PG Botany or PG Zoology, he has a relevance in the society. For skill-based courses we have to change the mindset of the people. Take the example of plumbing; you will never send your brother for this course, or I will never send my son for electrician course. People prefer medical and engineering courses. These skill-based courses should be started in schools and later colleges and universities can cater to it. He (minister) is right that army of graduates without jobs is produced but the basic point is that we have no option. Students are in a big crowd, if they work hard they can get themselves adjusted anywhere in world.
Is there a tracking system for students who graduated from the Varsity?
We have maintained a track of students about what they are doing after graduating from CUK. Dean Students Welfare (DSW) is taking care of it. We are in touch with them.
My last question for you; since CUK doesn't have a permanent campus it has not been able to impress people. What is your message to them?
See, I just came back from Kashmir University (KU), Once I reached there I told my colleagues that see this is a campus which has an ambience of a campus. Here, wee don't have that feeling. But my message is that we are trying our best and one day this campus will come up. When that day will come I can't answer. Maybe I will be here or not, but campus will be established one day. People should come forward, they should understand our difficulties. In case they come forward, this campus can come up at the earlier possible date. People from Ganderbal should also cooperate with us.