A Sweeping Shift

In anticipation of the tabling of the proposed public universities bill in the Lok Sabha, Yawar Hussain interacted with the academicians to understand how they see the sweeping shifts in governance mechanisms of major academic spaces in Jammu and Kashmir. The report offers a bird’s eye view of how certain universities in partnership with religious trusts function

With the Jammu and Kashmir Public Universities Bill 2022 slated to be taken up by the parliament in the upcoming session, the compelling reasons for altering the financial and administrative autonomy of the varsities in Jammu and Kashmir has left the academicians divided. Some believe the changes should have been brought in earlier to enforce accountability. There are many, however, who assert it will hamper the growth of the universities and in a way reduce them to the level of schools.

Compelling Reasons?

The University of Kashmir (KU) and the University of Jammu (JU), the oldest in Jammu and Kashmir, have been facing allegations of backdoor appointments and unchecked expenditures for a very long time. In the last 30 years, a group of senior University of Kashmir professors, wishing anonymity, alleged there have been around 800 ‘backdoor’ appointments in the lower and middle-rung administration without approval from the Finance Department.

“Their salaries aren’t released by the Finances department. They have been drawing hefty salaries. But the money for their salaries comes from the University Grants Commission (UGC), the J&K government and the students. The university has been hiking the fee to garner funds for paying the salaries of these people,” one professor said. These employees, he alleged, have been appointed by their relatives holding ‘high offices’. “The bill has now proposed to bring in the administration into the financial and administrative set-up of the university which will at least change the status quo.”

A JU professor alleged his varsity is grappling with a burden of around Rs 10 lakh monthly for fuel and maintenance of 100 odd vehicles allotted to various officials. He said that the entitlement for a vehicle was restricted to the Vice Chancellor and Controller Examination initially but later the facility was extended to the Registrar. “However, now there are 100 odd officials who now have allotted vehicles, which they don’t require,” the professor said. “The fuel and maintenance of these vehicles is an unnecessary expense.”

The professor hoped the future Registrar, who, according to the bill will be a career bureaucrat drawn from IAS or JKAS, would rein in these practices. He thinks that the administration was compelled to get into the functioning of the universities. “Universities took money from the government but never let them know how it was spent.”

The group of professors from KU have the same story. “The electricity bill of the university is around Rs 30 lakh per month while the hostels have no heating arrangements,” they alleged, insisting that adhocism is rampant in the university. “The Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission will now recruit for all the varsities,” one professor said. “Nobody will know who the expert is. Earlier, the subject experts brought in by the university were known to everyone before the interview.”

However, the pro-bill faculty is a small minority and some of them are being debated for their failures in managing better berths for themselves. Most of the academicians serving the twin institutions refused to talk either in favour or against the bill.

Reactions

Noted historian and former Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University Professor Dr Rattan Lal Hangloo said that the curtailing financial autonomy of universities depicts a Marwari (businessman) mindset. “It is a sad state of affairs. This bill doesn’t enunciate how the shifting of powers to administration would help education to grow,” Dr Hangloo said.

Central University of Kashmir (CUK)

By shifting the power to bureaucracy the government would turn universities into rotten government departments. “The financial audit of the universities has also landed with the bureaucracy now. They will spend the money and then if there is any wrongdoing, they will give themselves a clean chit as well,” believe the historian who has headed two universities in his career.

In the earlier law, there were enough checks and balances in the financial and administrative departments. “The VC wasn’t ruling the roost. They could have strengthened existing institutions rather than getting administration into universities,” Hangloo asserted. “A Finance Officer can be good at his work but how does the government expect him/her to run an academic institution of the level of a university.”

At Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, an Assistant Professor said that he along with many of his colleagues are happy with the new bill because it would bring them at par with KU and JU.

“The act which established our university was always seen as inferior to KU and JU acts,” he said. “With this act, uniformity will be achieved. All universities would be equal now.”

Mehrajuddin Mir, former Vice Chancellor Central University Kashmir said the financial autonomy of any university needs to be maintained for its growth. “In my opinion financial autonomy is essential for the academic growth and quality research in the Institutions of Higher Education,” Mir said.

No Trust

The Islamic University of Science and Technology’s former Vice Chancellor Mushtaq Siddique opines that curtailing the financial autonomy of any university indirectly takes away its academic autonomy as well.

IUST, which would now have two Wakf Board-appointed members in the Governing Council, has received only Rs 11 crores from the Wakf. As per the IUST Act 2005, the Wakf was supposed to pay as a one-time capital grant of Rs 20 20 crore.

A university insider said the Wakf was supposed to pay the University two crore rupees every year. “It is unpaid since 2005 and the Wakf owes IUST Rs 34 crores,” the source informed. Besides, he pointed out that the 100 kanal land provided to the university by the Wakf isn’t the property of the board. The land originally belonged to the caretaker trust of Syed Hassan Mantaqi shrine located on the foothills of the mountain which houses the university.

IUST Awantipora

“It was the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who convinced the Mantaqi Trust to give the land for the university,” the source revealed. “The Trust was then tied with Wakf Board and the land was given. But the board was just a medium through which the university received the land, they aren’t the owners of the land.”

Besides, the Wakf has faulted its commitment to provide yearly Rs 2 crore to the two Nursing Colleges set up in 2016 under the aegis of the IUST. “The board’s liability towards these two colleges is Rs 12 crore because they just provided Rs 2 crores for the initial year. Since then, IUST has been running these colleges on their own.”

Siddique said IUST’s non-plan budget was Rs 41 crores annually when he superannuated in May 2021.

Insisting that fiscal autonomy is fundamental to the growth of a university, Siddique said Harvard and Yales were only built through financial autonomy. He said funds from multiple sources are required for a university to develop into a world-class academic facility. “Selection of people for various positions of the university should be completely apolitical with the government’s intervention.”

During my tenure, Siddique said, the varsity used to engage staff when required but now the engagement of peon would require the approval of the administration. “JKPSC’s and JKSSB’s track record on recruitments would only hamper the growth of the universities in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Siddique said any person from a religious background can’t be made a member of a university’s governing council because it needs academicians. “Anybody giving funds to a university would put riders and conditionalities of their own. That is why a university needs to be financially independent.”

The IUST has been meeting its expenses from the funding from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Jammu and Kashmir government. The Jammu and Kashmir government started allotting Rs 5 crores annually to IUST for infrastructure development after the university’s master plan was approved in 2016 along with Rs 4 crore under salary quota. The UGC on its end started granting Rs 7 crore in 2016 which has gone up since then.

The SMVDU

In case of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University (SMVDU), which would now have two members nominated by the Shrine Board’s Chief Executive Officer, the funding has been constantly growing from the board’s end. Set up in 2004, the varsity has been receiving a whopping Rs 50 odd crores annually from the board. In 2018-19, the board paid Rs 56.71crores to SMVDU which was 11 per cent of its total expenses.

SMVDU 8th convocation on Friday July 29, 2022

As per the SMVDU Act 1999, the Shrine Board had to pay Rs 20 crores as a one-time payment, besides a yearly grant of  Rs 3 crore. While the Shrine Board paid Rs 20 crores, it also multiplied its annual grant to the university by 18 times since 2004.

The BGSB

Another trust-run varsity, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah (BGSB) university in Pir Panjal’s Rajouri district, has also been managing itself on its own with the Shahdra Sharief Trust providing just Rs 2 crores annually out of the total receipts of Rs 36 odd crores. However, unlike IUST, the varsity has been receiving annual Rs 2 crores on a constant basis from the trust.

As per official figures, the BGSB university received Rs 8 crores from the Jammu and Kashmir government under the non-plan salaries head in 2018 while the trust provided Rs 2 crores for the same financial year.

However, the university’s salary component for 2018 was Rs 20 crore which has now risen to Rs 34 crore. The university received Rs 7.49 crores from the UGC in 2018 making the agency the second-highest contributor to the university. The university also received additional funding of Rs 1 crore from the All-India Council for Technical Education and Rs 20 crore under the plan budget category from the Jammu and Kashmir government in 2018. The Trust, however, gave the varsity an initial grant of Rs 10 crore while the land, around 6000 kanals, belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir government. Since 2020, however, the Trust has also failed to give its annual share of Rs 2 crores to the university.

The varsity, which also would have two Wakf-appointed members in the governing council, has no direct funding from the board.

Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri

A Financial Autonomy Model

In contrast to the new bill’s proposal to set up a new financial administration for the public universities in Jammu and Kashmir under the civil administration’s control, the BJPDP government – the last elected government, had come up with an innovative financial model to make IUST a self-reliant university in terms of finances.

The BJPDP government allotted 1100 kanals of land to the IUST for setting up a solar park which was to generate 25-kilowatt electricity. The varsity was to sell the electricity and fund part of its expenditures. However, with the fall of the government in June 2018, the solar plant project wasn’t built but the land remains allotted.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here