Apart from their routine duties, the teaching and non-teaching staff of Pune’s Fergusson College are engaged in collecting donations for RSS Jankalyan Samiti, an NGO affiliated to the RSS, which wants to utilise the money for relief work in drought-hit areas of Maharashtra.
The staff members have been assigned this work by the top leadership of Deccan Education Society (DES), which runs three dozen educational institutions in Pune and elsewhere, including Fergusson College. DES is headed by Sharad Kunte, who has been associated with the RSS and earlier headed the Pune unit of Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Staffers of Fegusson College told The Indian Express that the instructions for collecting funds had come from Kunte at a meeting in the second week of April.
While DES and the college claimed that the fund-raising work was “voluntary”, college staffers of various ranks told The Indian Express that it did not seem so. “The way it was conveyed to the staff and the manner in which receipt books were distributed using official channels, like through the heads of departments, left little doubt among us employees that everyone had to do it,” one of the staffers said.
Kunte, chairman of DES Governing Council, said only those who “liked it” were participating in the fund-raising activity. “The entire state is reeling under drought and, as sensitive human beings, we should do our bit to alleviate the situation. Jankalyan Samiti does water conservation work across the state and we are collecting money for it. Everyone didn’t do it (collect donations),” he said.
Fergusson College principal Ravindrasinh Pardeshi insisted that the fund-raising exercise was voluntary. He said the administration had made an “appeal” to its staffers to collect funds but it was not compulsory.
Kunte said that so far Rs 13 lakh had been raised. Asked about the districts in which Jankalyan Samiti was doing water conservation work, he said this information should be sought from the NGO.
Ravindra Satalkar, who heads RSS Jankalyan Samiti (Maharashtra), said the NGO had sought help from organisations like corporate companies and educational institutes to do drought relief work. The NGO said it had approached DES and similar institutions like Maharashtra Education Society for help in raising funds. “We are doing drought relief work in several districts of Marathwada and Ahmednagar and Solapur districts. The work includes water conservation projects as well as distribution of fodder and water storage tanks,” said Satalkar.
Staff members told The Indian Express that Kunte had held a meeting at the college amphitheatre in April and told all teaching and non-teaching staff about the fundraising initiative. “Soon after the meeting, receipt books reached us through our HoDs (heads of departments). Each book had 10 receipts and the minimum amount to be collected against each receipt was Rs 100. Almost all of us have submitted the filled receipts and the collected money through the same channel…,” said a staff member.
“This has happened at Fergusson College for the first time,” another staffer said. “Many of us were unhappy about it but no one conveyed any displeasure for fear of antagonising the administration… Most staff members submitted them with donations. While some collected from friends and relatives, others put in money from their own pockets,” he claimed.
“No one is opposed to the idea of drought relief. Why can’t DES collect funds for itself instead of doing it for RSS? Many of us would have happily donated a part of our salary,” added the staffer.
Staffers also claimed that their colleagues at other institutions being run by DES also received similar instructions.