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State-run Patiala varsity struggles to pay salaries with Rs 300-crore deficit

Indiscriminate hiring, hiking salaries of guest faculty without permission among reasons; committee set up on CM’s orders to fix problem

By: Express News Service | Ludhiana | August 14, 2020 1:26:39 am
punjab university, pu senate elections, pu student body elections, pu news, chandigarh news, latest news, indian expressPunjabi University in Patiala

FACING A deficit of “at least Rs 300 crore”, the state-run Punjabi University in Patiala is struggling to pay even basic salaries and pensions of the staff and administration.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Rahul Bhandari, secretary, higher education and languages, Punjab, said that the varsity is in a “deep financial mess”, and to find out solutions to the multiple problems it is facing, a three-member high-level committee has been constituted on the orders of the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.

“The varsity’s expenditure is going way beyond its income and there is a clear deficit of at least Rs 300 crore. For the financial year 2020-21, their expected expenditure is Rs 676 crore, whereas the expected income (including state/central government grants) is Rs 384 crore only. And if we exclude government grants from this figure, their own net income from fee etc. is Rs 218 crore only. It is really difficult for the varsity to continue working this way,” he added.

Bhandari further said that the state government had approved Rs 104 crore as additional grant for the varsity in the 2020-21 Budget and its monthly installment of Rs 8.7 crore is being credited every month. “But the administration of the varsity said they need an additional grant of at least Rs 244 crore just to clear salaries and pensions. Despite Rs 8.7 crore going every month and another Rs 30 crore given in the past four months since this financial year started, they are facing issues in even paying basic salaries and pensions. According to them, their minimum requirement each month just to clear basic salaries and pensions every month is Rs 30 crore (Rs 360 crore for a year). Prima facie, the varsity is overstaffed and despite financial crunch, hirings were done indiscriminately. The committee will look into these aspects,” he said.

He further said, “The Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) in Amritsar is running with way less staff than PU Patiala and their demand for additional grant never exceeds Rs 40-50 crore. But PU Patiala is not even self-sustained to pay basic salaries and pensions. This mess has been there for some years. Last year, they even took a loan of Rs 140 crore from a bank without informing the state finance department, just to clear salary bills. We got to know about it now.”

A meeting chaired by the state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal was held on July 22 this year at Chandigarh to discuss the poor financial condition of the varsity. Several issues that may have landed the 58-year-old institution in this financial mess, were discussed.

According to the minutes of the meeting (a copy of which is with The Indian Express), which was also attended by Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala, Dr B S Ghuman, Principal Secretary Finance KAP Sinha and Secretary Higher Education Rahul Bhandari, the V-C in his remarks said, “The university is passing through a difficult phase on account of lack of funds. To carry on with day to day working of the university has become extremely difficult.

University is not in a position even to meet the expenses on account of salaries and pensionary liabilities of its staff.”
He further said, “…The present financial state of the university is primarily due to decisions taken by his predecessor especially on the issue of mass recruitment of staff whose gestation period is over and now the university has to honour those liabilities. The situation is further worsened due to non-collection of fees for past several months. The low admissions in regional centres of the engineering colleges being run by the universities in last three-four years have also contributed to low collection of fees.”

The minutes further say that on being questioned by the finance minister regarding the decisions taken that led to this situation, the V-C said, “…large-scale recruitment was carried out, due to which strength of teaching staff has increased to 935, non-teaching staff to 3,344 and 321 people have been employed on daily wages.”

It was further noted that “strength of especially non-teaching and daily wagers is very high and the university must carry out a man power audit and rationalisation of posts to reduce financial burden due to salaries”.

Despite repeated attempts, V-C Dr Ghuman did not respond to calls and messages.

How deep is this mess

As per the minutes of the meeting, on the current budgetary situation of the varsity, the secretary, higher education, noted, “The income of the university has declined sharply over last 5-6 years while the salary component has risen exponentially in last five years along with other expenses. In 2015-2016, income was Rs 274.37 crore whereas in 2019-2020, it declined to Rs. 218.30 crore while the salary bill which was Rs 199.27 crore in 2015-2016 rose to Rs 425.84 crore in 2020-2021, which has risen beyond norms and has led to the current poor financial condition of the university.

Despite several communications to the university, no action has been taken so far. It has been written to the university to act upon enquiry reports regarding irregularities committed during tenure of previous vice-chancellor, to initiate cost-cutting measures, to make efforts to get stay vacated in case of employees working beyond retirement age, rationalisation of teaching as well as non-teaching staff, identifying irrelevant courses, but no action till date has been taken on any of these issues which is very essential and important for the university to become self-sustained…”

“Auditor General Punjab has raised serious objections on various accounts and irregularities in handling finances of university,” it added.

Not declaring results in time, leading to delay in admissions and subsequent losses, indiscriminate hiring, hiking salaries of guest faculty without permission were among the reasons pointed out in the meeting.

“…Results of the last semester before lockdown have also not been declared till date. The late declaration of results leads to low admissions…and hence results in financial loss to the university…The strength of employees is much higher than strength of employees at Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar. The university is also paying its guest faculty @ Rs 44,000 per month, which is much higher than the amount being paid to guest faculty by the government. The university did not seek any permission in enhancing the salary of guest faculty from Rs 21,600 to Rs 44,000 from the government. The university has not taken any permission for…taking loan from banks neither they have put forward any plan for clear cut ways to pay back this loan. The university had followed/implemented a new pension scheme from 09-07-2012 instead of 01-01-2004, due to which it suffered a loss of Rs 118 crore due to non-deduction of C.P.F…There seems to be over-staffing…,” say the minutes.

Bhandari said, “After the July 22 meeting, there was another meeting the next day chaired by the CM and the decision to constitute a committee was taken. At the July 22 meeting, it was decided to release Rs 20 crore as immediate relief to varsity and including this amount, we have already given them Rs 30 crore in four months this financial year, but still they are facing issues in paying salaries…”

The committee

As per the notification issued on August 11, a three-member committee has been constituted for ‘suggesting measures to improve the functioning of Punjabi University, Patiala’. The committee members are: Viswajeet Khanna (additional chief secretary, revenue), Rahul Bhandari (Secretary, higher education and langauges) and Dr BS Ghuman (V-C, Punjabi University, Patiala).

The committee has been entrusted with these tasks: optimisation of salary budget, increasing revenues of the university, rationalisation of pay scales and pension benefits, review irregular appointments, system of admissions among others. The committee has to submit the report within a month.

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