The month-long agitation at Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan, which saw all work coming to a standstill, has taken a murkier turn with the authorities stopping the payment of salaries for January to teachers and other employees. The university maintained that cheques will be issued only after V-C Sushanta Dutta Gupta, who was out of town, returned.
Teaching staff, other employees and students of the University are protesting against the VC’s “corrupt practices” and “high-handedness”.
Following the new development, the Adhyapak Sabha (association of university professors) is set to get an FIR lodged against the V-C and the university registrar at Bolpur police station on Monday. “The action of the V-C is arbitrary, a gross violation of not only all statues and norms but also of human rights. This thing has never happened here before. We are going to get an FIR lodged against the V-C and registrar,” said Professor Rajesh Venugopal, also the secretary of Adhyapak Sabha.
He added: “We have also written to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is still our Chancellor, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding the removal of the V-C, who is a disgrace and shame to this institution.”
The Indian Express has accessed the letter sent by Joint Registrar Saugata Chatterjee and Deputy Registrar Tamal Nag at 10.10 pm on Saturday to the Adhyapak Sabha, stating that salaries will be disbursed only after the V-C returned to Santiniketan.
When contacted, Registrar R Gunasekharan claimed that disbursement of salary was only a matter of time. “People are agitating and there is a dearth of employees. But salaries will soon be paid,’’ he said.
The holding up of salaries is the latest development in the agitation that began with the demand to withdraw the decision of scrapping the quota system at Visva-Bharati. The protest later turned into an agitation for the removal of the V-C. Since January 25, the university has witnessed a cease work at all departments, leading to the virtual closure of India’s first central university, set up by poet Rabindranath Tagore. On November 22, last year, following an executive committee meeting of Visva-Bharati, the quota system for admission to the undergraduate courses was scrapped. According to the system, students clearing higher secondary examination from the two schools under the university — Patha Bhavan and Siksha Satra — used to get an advantage over applicants from other institutions.
The V-C, who joined his post in September 29, 2011, abolished the system. He proposed that a common admission test be introduced for all students at the college level.
This led students and a section of professors setting up a steering committee and starting an agitation on December 14 last year. On December 22, 2014, members of Chhatra Sanmilony — the students’ union — gheraoed the V-C. Following this, they were assured that status quo will be maintained and the matter will be discussed in the Executive Council (EC) meeting on January 24.
Accordingly, the agitation was suspended, only to be resumed on January 25 when at the EC meeting — held in Kolkata — the V-C refused to discuss the matter. “First, he said the meeting will be held in Shantiniketan but it was shifted to Kolkata.. At the meeting, I urged him to take up the matter but he refused, saying it could not be discussed and there was no question of scrapping the decision. I was dumbfounded,” said Sushovan Banerjee, an eminent physician from Bolpur and President’s nominee on the EC said.
According to teachers and students, reservation in admission for “internal” students from the two schools — in vogue since Tagore’s time — was in tune with his teachings and ideals. “Out of 43 central universities of the country, schools are affiliated only with Visva-Bharati. Elsewhere, schools are affiliated with CBSE or ICSE. Gurudev himself wanted school students get higher education in the university,” said Jamshid Ali, president of Chhatra Sanmilony.
“The V-C told us that he had orders from the UGC but he could not show us the same. There are hundreds of complaints against him, including financial irregularities, sexual harassment and corruption in recruitment to various posts,’’ he added. The protesters have also demanded a white paper on the V-C’s activities since he assumed charge three years ago. “He flouted all norms and rules. Last year, his name was announced as an awardee of Padma Shri and the State Women’s Commission protested. We will not stop unless and until he is removed,’’ Ali said.
Maintaining that the quota system did not harm the academic record of the university, Kishore Bhattacharya — a teacher — said: “Every year, on an average 180 to 220 students graduate from the two schools. But in the 46 departments, around 40 students from each school is given admission. So, out of 1,824 students in undergraduate courses, around 180 to 190 internal students can easily be inducted, provided they fulfil the criteria.”
Registrar Gunashekharan said scrapping of the quota system was done in accordance with government orders. “Classes are not being held and the atmosphere of the university has been vitiated. This is a matter of concern for all of us,” he added.
While the university — set up under an Act of 1951 of the Centre — has around 5,000 students, there are 750 teachers and 1,200 non-teaching staff members.