Politics of EDUCATION

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With most of the KU’s ‘talent’ landing here for their second innings, CUK is losing both its originality and identity. Kashmir Life reports the politics that overshadows education in a premier institution     

CUK  transit  campus  at  Zainakote.

CUK transit campus at Zainakote.

Since its inception in 2009 Central University of Kashmir is attracting bad press. It could have been a welcome respite for students seeking admission in higher studies in ‘state run and controlled’ Kashmir University (KU), where they have only two option – go with the flow or go out.

But with most of the KU’s teaching ‘talent’ landing in CUK in their ripe days, the later ended up being a replica of the former.

For decades KU and its faculty has maintained a complete hegemony over education system in conflict torn Kashmir.

While the state government, led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, ensured that university had to be constructed in his assembly constituency of Ganderbal over an area of more than 4000 kanals, a transit campus of the University was setup at Sonwar in Srinagar in August, 2010.

On August 13, 2012, President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, appointed renowned nuclear scientist Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, the first chancellor of Central University of Kashmir. During the years, CUK widened its operations and introduced a number of different and virgin courses in the valley’s outdated educational set up. However, as time passed, the air of “corruption, nepotism, misuse of authority and vested interests” started corroding the very structure of the CUK – beginning from the appointment of a non-teaching staffer to a top position like that of a Deputy Registrar.

Insiders point out that after CUK’s founding VC, Prof Abdul Wahid Qureshi retired in March this year, the officiating VC, Prof Mehraj-ud-din, has become a cause for the “dull and murky functioning of the university”, irking the faculty members who are worried about the state of affairs in the University. According to the sources, the University has been turned into a ‘personal fiefdom’ by Prof Mehraj-ud-din who is one of several shortlisted candidates for the post of CUK’s Vice-chancellorship, to be announced in the coming months.

The sources said that after 3rd May, 2014 – when the candidates for the post of VC interacted with the selection committee at New Delhi – Prof Mehraj-ud-Din intensified his Public Relations activities and has launched a massive campaign of providing a shiny picture of his tenure.

On May 10, 2014 the university organized a one-day interactive workshop at Nigeen Club, Srinagar with senior retired bureaucrats, businessmen and senior academics of Kashmir University, which, itself, is already under a chronic controversy for its bad administrative and academic politics. Formally, the workshop was conducted to “revisit” the university’s vision and mission statement but it was actually an event, at the scenic Club overlooking the Nigeen Lake, to enhance the in-charge VC’s relations with the people who the university has started calling “stakeholders.”

According to the officiating VC, “in the last meeting of University court, which is the highest advisory body, it was decided that university must revisit its vision and mission statement,” which can be achieved by “setting goals and objectives to see where this university (CUK) can be not tomorrow, but after 50 years.” However, the sources in the varsity contradict this and question “what is wrong with the already set vision and mission statement of the university in the act?”

Central-University-at-Sonwar-Srinagar

CUK transit campus at Sonwar.

“Fearing that these retired bureaucrats and academics could create hurdles in his struggle for Vice-Chancellorship, Prof Mehraj-ud-Din took a preemptive measure to contain any adversity which could have otherwise become distasteful for his pursuits,” a senior faculty member of the university told Kashmir Life.

According to the sources, some retired controversial Police officers, old friends of the in-charge VC, like A M Wataali also attended the workshop but only for the lunch. The participants could see Wataali and his half a dozen security guards only sitting and relishing the buffet and leaving immediately after blessing Prof Mehraj-ud-Din for his goals. However, Prof Mehraj-ud-din says that he invited Wataali, because “Wataali is the chairman of Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA).”

“Vision and Mission of a university are something related to the future of the university which should be debated and discussed mostly among the young faculty, scholars and students of the university,” a senior faculty member said.

However, the most important drawback, which was also a proof of the activity’s PR purpose, of the workshop was that the young faculty or students of the varsity were not invited at the workshop to present their views on the vision and mission or whether these needed to be changed at all. Despite invitation, some senior professors and deans of CUK did not attend the workshop and chose to stay away from the event.

In the last few months, the University faculty including the officiating VC, the Registrar, and the other top officials are on a tour spree holding meetings with different schools and colleges of Ganderbal for what it calls “revisiting of University’s vision and mission statement,” resulting in the hampering of administrative functioning of the university. In one such incident, an Associate Professor of Management Department, Dr. Fayaz Ahmad Nikka, was involved in making preparations for the visit of Chancellor, Dr. Sri Kumar Banerjee, in May this year, for ten consecutive days, during which period, sources say, he didn’t take a single class, thereby making students suffer.

A look at Prof Mehraj-ud-Din Mir’s track record in Kashmir University, where he held different administrative as well as academic posts, reveals that Mehraj had a number of allegations of being involved in a number of recruitment scams and embezzlements. According to reliable sources in Kashmir University, Prof Mehraj-ud-Din, who served as Registrar, Controller of Examinations, Dean Students Welfare, Head and Dean Faculty of Law in that university, was “fraudulently appointed in the Kashmir University when some more deserving candidates were sidelined.”

The sources further add that Mehraj was tried in the Vigilance department for a case of amassing disproportionate assets for years. “He utilized all his resources and influence and was successful in shelving the case against him.”

According to sources, Prof Mehraj-ud-Din was reportedly removed by Raj Bhawan for misappropriation and other scandals in the Kashmir University.

Since the in-charge VC has been administering the Central University for almost four months, sources say that some of the senior professors of various departments, who have been colleagues of Prof Mehraj-ud-Din at Kashmir University earlier, have been successful in manipulating and influencing decision making of VC as per their wishes.

Foundation stone of CUK at Ganderbal campus site.

Foundation stone of CUK at Ganderbal campus site.

“Since these professors have come from the state university which is the state-level University of Kashmir (KU), either on leans or with a security of their pensions at KU, and happen to be colleagues of the officiating VC, they disregard the protocol of the VC and indirectly convey to him that the VC could only continue as VC provided he fulfils their demands,” an official of the university, wishing not to be named, told Kashmir Life.

The pattern is like that all the deans and HoDs of the Central University of Kashmir have been filled up only with the retirees, or those who were about to retire, from the Kashmir University and even top positions like Registrar and Vice-Chancellor have been filled up by those from Kashmir University.

 “The university has become a rehabilitation centre for the old, retiring professors of the University of Kashmir who get five more years of service in the Central University where the retirement age is 65,” said a varsity student wishing anonymity. “It is a pattern here that the entire top faculty, the deans and heads, are from Kashmir Univeristy. How is it not possible to have at least a single person from outside the state? One wonders. They have occupied all the decision and policy making spaces in CUK.”

However, the officiating Vice-Chancellor who himself joined CUK after retiring from KU, says that “the appointments have been transparent and the selections have been made on the basis of experience in the field.”

According to the sources, the Registrar of the varsity Dr. Mohammad Afzal Zargar, who too has come from KU on lean, instead of his own work, interferes in all the decisions with respect to the academic policies and plans of CUK; something that does not come in the domain of his functions and powers. Afzal, an Associate Professor of Biochemistry who also served as Chief Proctor, University of Kashmir and headed Clinical Biochemistry in Kashmir University joined CUK in September 2013, after the erstwhile Registrar, Dr. Abdul Gani Dar completed his term.

“The present Registrar has pampered one Assistant Registrar of administration, Dr. Javaid Wani who runs all the important affairs of the university,” an official source from the CUK said. The Assistant Registrar directly or indirectly controls almost every matter related to administration, purchase/estate and recruitment in the university. It is also being said by the sources that Dr. Wani is the principal advisor in all the major decisions and actions of the university including recruitment.

In one such blatant violation of authority and misuse of power, in last year CUK received above 1100 applications for a few lower non-teaching posts advertised by it, and surprisingly after a three-tier filtering, that comprised screening of the forms, a written exam and interview, only those were selected who happen to be the relatives and neighbours of the Assistant Registrar Dr. Javaid Wani and the Registrar from Shopain, Chrar-e-Sharief and Kani Taar, Hazratbal, Srinagar. Sources say that it is not even randomly possible to have one’s own relatives and favourite candidates in the selection list after such a multi-level sifting. A lab assistant happens to be a next door of neighbour of Registrar, Dr. Mohammad Afzal Zargar.

Since the Assistant Registrar himself belongs to Chrar-e-Sharief, most of his current subordinate staff, his orderly and section officer, belongs to Chrar, Budgam district. Highly placed sources in the university say that in the erstwhile Registrar’s tenure Dr. Javaid Wani had scandalously proposed two posts of Deputy Registrar through the university to University Grants Commission (UGC). After the posts were advertised by the university, Dr Javaid Wani, for his own promotion, showed himself eligible for the DR post. According to former VC, Prof Abdul Wahid Qureshi, who was one of the members of that three-member selection committee, Dr. Javaid Wani was one of the two recommended candidates after the interview of more than 35 candidates in the fray for post of Deputy Registrar. However, days before the Executive council could announce the formal appointment of Dr. Javaid Wani and the other candidate, Prof Qureshi received an “anonymous representation that highlighted; that proper procedure for selection has not been followed, with a case of favouritism in support of the Assistant Registrar.” Founding the grounds of violations valid and substantial, Prof Qureshi, with the strong disapproval by the Executive Council, quashed the appointment of Dr. Wani and made the whole process null and void. An investigation was ordered into the entire process of appointment. But as soon as the erstwhile Registrar’s term ended, the case was quietly closed and no administrative audit took place. No action to this day has been taken against the incumbent Assistant Registrar and even the Chancellor of CUK, Dr. Banerjee, doesn’t know about it. Sources say that the senior professors were making fun of the Chancellor in Kashmiri language while he criticised the standards of their power-point presentations during his recent visit in May. Instead of the academic performances or future plans of their respective departments, most of the deans in their presentations spoke of their own “achievements” through power-point presentations full of serious grammatical and graphic mistakes.

“He (Dr. Javaid Wani) continues to enjoy his position in the administration and is privy to each university matter as all the files have to pass through him,” sources said.

EdCil (Educational Consultants), a government of India undertaking, was appointed as consultant for preparation of Master Plan for the university. CP Kookeraja and associates, a Delhi based multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering firm, prepared the master plan for construction of CUK at Ganderbal which was approved in 2014. Since the Master Plan for construction of permanent campus of the Central University at district Ganderbal has been already approved, the university is planning to construct a temporary pre-engineered campus at Ganderbal that will come at the cost of rupees 14 crores plus. Kashmir Life has learnt that during the process of approving and meetings about the construction of pre-engineered structures at Ganderbal, the figure of estimated cost has significantly went up from 2 crores to more than 14 crores. According to the sources, “it is a way for some people to find out possibilities to embezzle and misappropriate.” Otherwise the varsity can straight away proceed for setting up the campus as already the Site Office of the CPWD, which has been assigned to construct the permanent campus, is in place on the campus land at Ganderbal. The banality of the decision can be ascertained from the fact that once the pre-engineered buildings are erected at Ganderbal, there is no provision for the accommodation of faculty and non-teaching staff who belong to different far-flung areas of Kashmir. Rather the University has availed the service of Government quarters at Bemina, which fall almost 30 kilometres away from the University campus.

According to Prof Mehraj-ud-Din, the pre-engineered campus at Ganderbal will come up in six to eight months, while the construction of permanent concrete campus will begin in phased manner after necessary formalities are finished. The minimum time-period for a concrete structure to come up is two years.

According to the official figures, 3700 kanals of land out of 4200 kanals meant for university have been already acquired by the University for the Construction of permanent campus. Against the approved 21 programs by the University Grants Commission (UGC) only 11 programs are currently being taught in CUK under eight different schools. At present the University functions from the three rented buildings at different locations of Srinagar city-Sonwar, Magarmal Bagh and Zainakote. Worth mentioning, the contract of the rented building at Zainakote is ending next month and the university has hired a new building as its replacement at Nowgam in Srinagar outskirts-even much before the construction of pre-engineered structures at Ganderbal will begin.

On the other hand, almost all the post-graduate departments severely lack proper faculty. More importantly none of the departments have been given the necessary non-teaching staff. Besides their academic activities the faculties have to carry out all the administrative work themselves.

According to a senior faculty member of the university, the Registrar indulges in constitution of committees after committees for carrying out various works of the university which are actually his and other assistant registrars’ jobs. The members of those committees mostly are the university teachers who often remain busy with their own academic activities. It takes a long time for actually executing the jobs.

“We are very worried about the chaos in the university as things aren’t going well. If universities have to be built upon dirty politics and personal interests than this is it,” said a professor of the university.

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