The Union HRD Ministry has asked the vice-chancellor (V-C) of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to explain his absence from the campus given the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak even as the BHU hospital is designated for COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Vice-Chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar has not been in BHU since March 14.
The ministry discovered this during a video-conference with all university heads on Saturday. A showcause notice seeking an explanation was issued to Bhatnagar the same day.
Bhatnagar told The Indian Express, “There were four meetings in Delhi on different dates – from March 14 to 19 – and I was attending all those meetings. (While in Delhi) I felt cold and feverish. Suspecting that I was infected (with COVID-19), I decided to stay back in Delhi and quarantine myself.”
By the time he recovered, the V-C said, the lockdown was implemented and he couldn’t travel to Varanasi.
“As per the Prime Minister’s appeal to citizens to work from home, and especially to senior citizens to not venture out, I was working from home,” Bhatnagar said. “I was working day and night and was constantly in touch with my people in BHU. The campus has implemented the lockdown well. We are working hard.
“Whether I am in Benaras or Delhi it doesn’t matter, as I was working from home using communication technology.”
Asked whether he had received the ministry’s notice, Bhatnagar said he is on his way to Varanasi and will check once he reaches his office.
During Saturday’s meeting, HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal is learned to have asked how the BHU V-C is managing such a large campus from Delhi. Bhatnagar is a professor at JNU and was appointed the BHU head in April 2018.
Pokhriyal later asked his officers to seek a formal explanation from Bhatnagar. The showcause notice asks Bhatnagar why the government should not act against him for remaining absent from the university campus for an extended period amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The notice also seeks details of his absence from the university campus from January to March, including names of places visited.
Bhatnagar has a week to respond.
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