On the 17th of this month, the administration of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU) Rajouri, faced an unusual evening protest.
It was the faculty and non-teaching staff who had gathered outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office to demand redressal of their long-pending demands, including, primarily, implementation of Career Advancement Scheme (CAS) for teachers which is pending for several years and removal of retired officers aged above 70 years who are holding administrative positions (like Dean Academic Affairs) taking full salaries in complete violation of UGC regulations.
The other demands include an administrative reshuffle to end ‘monopoly of a few influential officials’ at the helm, speedy disposal of files as per the J&K Public Services Guarantees Act, 2011, completion of stalled work on infrastructure projects, streamlining of extramural projects, besides reinstatement of a professor placed under suspension nearly two years ago.
After two days of protests, held after 4.30pm after the teaching activities culminated, a detailed Memorandum of Demands signed by nearly 100 teachers was presented to the Vice-Chancellor and Registrar.
The peaceful protests continue to be held in the evening hours (half an hour or one hour before the working hours end) to press for early resolution of the demands. Among the above-mentioned demands, two demands need an urgent attention on which the teachers say they won't budge an inch.
The foremost demand includes immediate removal of officers aged above 70 years, one of whom continues to hold the administrative position of Dean Academic Affairs with full salary in gross violation of the UGC regulations which say that no faculty or administrative staff can hold any administrative position post his or her retirement.
Even though all other universities in Jammu and Kashmir have done away with reengagement of retired faculty after directions from the Chancellor’s Office, the BGSBU appears to be violating the norms here.
“We are often told that if these officers aged above 70 years are removed, who will take their positions in the university? This is a flawed argument given by the administration only to encourage a culture of favouritism,” said a protesting teacher, wishing anonymity.
“Let them put these positions to open advertisements and then see the response. The University hasn’t even attempted once in the last seven years to do away with this kind of favouritism.”
The protest by teachers was clearly not against the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Akbar Masood, who is rather being appreciated by them for several initiatives.
For example, Prof Masood issued an order that those orphans who have lost either both parents or the earning father and are survived by a non-working mother will be entitled to 100 percent waiver in tuition fee, and those orphans who have lost their earning father and are survived by a working mother will be entitled to 80 percent tuition fee waiver.
The VC also ordered that children of all regular Class-IV employees of BGSBU will be given concession in tuition fee at 50 percent up to two children admitted in any academic programme, and that a monthly assistance of Rs 1000 as scholarship be given to two eldest wards of deceased employees of the University till their schooling up to 12th standard.
To increase the enrollment of girl students in higher education, the VC also decided to give a waiver of 50 percent in tuition fee to the top two rank-holder girl students based on the admission merit list in all PG programmes. Above all, the VC also approved 50 percent, and then again 10 percent (total 60 percent) reduction in existing tuition fee for all academic programmes to make fee structure more affordable.
The VC is also credited for making examination reforms like decentralizing the examination system and switching over to five-day-week working in the University. If any grouse the teachers hold against the incumbent VC, it is the accusation that he is being “misled daily by a coterie of officers working under the influence of officers aged above 70 years only to safeguard their vested interests.” The VC however denies this charge.
This alleged influence is such that after evening protests were held on January 16-17, when Prof Akbar Masood personally came out of his office to speak to the aggrieved teachers, an ‘advisory’ circulated to the teachers by the Registrar of the University attempted to give a completely different colour and spin to the peaceful protests by calling these an “undesirable activity, crowd gathering and slogan shouting”. This, according to teachers, was done at the behest of the coterie only to project their protests as “agitation”.
While the ‘Advisory’ urged the teachers to desist from such “undesirable” activities, it acknowledged that the protests were held after the class work hours, even though the ‘Advisory’ continued to maintain silence on why and how officers aged 70 years are continuing to hold administrative positions and taking full salaries. The Advisory also didn’t make a mention of why CAS for teachers and non-teaching staff has been delayed inordinately.
“We started addressing the Honourable Vice Chancellor when he interacted with us with the fundamental assertion that we are law-abiding citizens of our country who are exercising our democratic right to seek redressal of genuine demands,” said a group of teachers.
Shockingly, the University employees are without their salaries for the last more than two months. In a reflection of sad state of affairs, the salaries are withheld for the University’s own fault of delaying switching over to the Centralised Personnel Information System (CPIS) of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir. This is despite the fact that the administrative officials of the University received a communication way back in June 2022 on making the entries of staff on the CPIS to generate a CPIS code in accordance with the Government guidelines for release of salary to the employees.
“I have kids and parents who are dependent on me. I have a bank loan installment to pay and family to feed. For the last two months, despite rendering my services regularly, I am being denied salary in time,” said a non-teaching staff.
“We are suffering because of the incompetence of few administrative officials who are taking hefty money as honourarium themselves from the state exchequer component for the University in total violation of rules, while denying us our legitimate dues.”
Interestingly, one of the ‘serious’ issues unanimously raised by the faculty and non-teaching staff is the alleged drawal of lakhs of rupees as extra honourarium by a select group of administrative officials in violation of the Financial Code and Rules. The matter has been pointed out by the University’s own Finance Officer who has sought an immediate end to “misuse of state exchequer".
Serious questions have also been pin-pointed over several matters including recruitment and promotion process followed by the University authorities in case of selective elevation of three faculty members as Associate Professors, promotion of few officers in administration without following rule book and alleged financial irregularities in funding projects like Rs 12.1 crore TEQIP-III project. The University insiders are demanding a full-fledged inquiry by investigating agencies like Crime Branch and ACB into all these “serious issues”.
One Associate Professor, who was previously suspended over a serious allegation, is functioning as Associate Dean and has been given the administrative position despite the committee probing his case recommending to the University authorities that he shall not be given any administrative position in future. Insiders allege that the file pertaining to the case on which these remarks have been made is not traceable and was deliberately misplaced.
To conclude, it would be imperative on part of the Vice-Chancellor to address the genuine grievances of the teachers and non-teaching staff without any further delay.
The VC is being appreciated for several initiatives and should not allow his reputation to be tarnished by allowing any violations like continuation of officers aged above 70 years. It not only sets a wrong precedent but also demoralizes the teaching faculty and staff. It is indeed a challenge before the VC to address the demands of teachers.
The BGSBU, being more of a residential university in a mountainous region, should transform itself into a truly multidisciplinary institution taking all stakeholders, especially teachers, on board. Let the VC not allow the reputation of the University, and his own image, to be spoiled in any manner.
VC ASSURES ACTION
When contacted, Prof Akbar Masood told Greater Kashmir on Sunday (January 22, 2023) that salary was pending due to non-release of wages by the concerned quarters and issues concerning installation of biometric attendance and CPIS code.
Regarding CAS for teachers, Prof Masood said the panel of experts has to ideally come from the Chancellor's Office or the Executive Committee.
“The Chancellor’s Office said that we should get the CAS done through our EC. Since VC is the head of the EC, I will utilise my special powers to get the CAS done. The CAS work will start in the next few days only,” he said.
“I don’t have any personal agenda here. My all actions are for the welfare of everyone associated with the University. Salary will also be released within a couple of days,” he said.
Prof Masood said that the arrangement of Dean Academic Affairs was done by the former administration and was a temporary arrangement “since I find it hard to get people to work in this University.”
He however assured to do best for the teachers and address all their genuine grievances.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.