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JNU spending on security up, research budget down

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Oct 06, 2020 01:50 AM IST

The matter was raised by members of the executive council (EC), the university’s top decision-making body, after the annual financial report for 2019-20 was presented before the council on Monday.

The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has seen a substantial decrease in its academic expenses over the past three financial years, affecting the organisation of seminars and workshops; subscription to journals and publications; and sponsorship of fellowships and research activities.

The matter was raised by members of the executive council (EC), the university’s top decision-making body, after the annual financial report for 2019-20 was presented before the council on Monday.

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The financial reports of the last three years show that annual academic expenses decreased by 26.38% from Rs 38.36 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 28.24 crore in 2018-19, and by another 30% to Rs 19.74 crore in 2019-20. Academic expenses include important components such as spends on seminars and workshops, journals and publications, and teaching aids and research activities.

HT has seen the financial reports. While the annual financial reports for 2017-18 and 2018-19 are available on the university website, the report for 2019-20 was tabled in the EC meeting on Monday as an agenda item.

In the same period, legal and security expenses have increased in the university. Legal expenses increased from Rs 2.72 lakh in 2017-18 to Rs 17.7 lakh in 2018-19. An additional fund of Rs 30 lakh was approved for legal expenses this year in the EC meeting held on September 7, in additional to the already sanctioned budget of Rs 9 lakh.

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Security spends increased from Rs 17.37 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 18.54 crore in 2018-19. For 2019-20, the security budget was Rs 15.34 crore. JNU has seen significant strife on campus since 2016 — including flashpoints such as a protest against the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru and a 2019 protest against a new fee structure.

An EC member, who asked not to be named , said that the reduction in academic expenses has been consistently questioned by some of the members. “At the same time, the cost incurred on legal and security expenses have witnessed a drastic increase during these years. The centres have been witnessing major issues in organising seminars and workshops for students since we do not get enough funds for them. We are not being able to invite speakers due to the issue. The expenses on seminars and workshops have decreased to Rs 45 lakh in 2019-20 from Rs 1.48 crore in 2018-19,” the member added.

JNU VC Jagadesh Kumar did not respond to several calls and texts seeking a comment.

Specifically, expenses on journals and publications decreased by 33.8% from Rs 4.18 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 2.76 crore in 2018-19, and by another 58.37% in 2019-20 to Rs 1.15 crore. Similarly, the expenses on research activities -- this includes costs of research projects and teachers’ trips to international or national seminars among others -- reduced by around 98% from Rs 1.13 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 1,72,853 in 2018-19, and then inched up marginally to Rs 2,39,144 in 2019-20.

The students’ fellowships/stipends -- also part of academic expenses -- decreased by at least 84% in 2018-19 to Rs 2.57 crore from Rs 18.22 crore in 2017-18. It fell further to Rs 2.39 crore in 2019-20.

Registrar Pramod Kumar said that the university offers fellowships and stipends under various heads. “There are numerous sponsored fellowships in JNU. Besides there are UGC-net fellowships/stipends. These are non-net fellowships. The university is providing all fellowships/stipends to our students.”

There are also reports of fellowship payments being delayed. JNU students’ union (JNUSU) president Aishe Ghosh said that the union has been raising the issue of the decrease in academic funds for the past few years. “Students have been struggling due to the delay in the release of fellowships and stipends. I myself have not received my fellowship for past one year. Similarly, the expenses on work travel of teachers have been reduced drastically over the years,” she said. In 2018, the JNUSU alleged that the administration cut library funds by over Rs 6 crore. The University, however, denied the charges.

Surajit Mazumdar, secretary of JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) said that the teachers’ body has also constantly been raising the matter of reduction in academic expenses. “The immediate implications of these are the disruptive effects on academic activities by cutbacks on important expenditure -- lab material, fieldwork, journals, conferences and seminars, etc. This is also initiating a long-term process of erosion of academic standards and establishment of a new normal where the best is no longer expected. The irony is that increased expenditure on things like security has produced the opposite of a more secure campus,” he said.

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JNU registrar Pramod Kumar confirmed that the matter was raised by some EC members on Monday. He, however, said that reduction in academic expenses has not affected the academic performance of the University. “The University has been constantly on the top of all national rankings. The administration has in fact regularised the expenditure. We are encouraging our own faculty to conduct seminars and workshops instead of inviting people from outside. We are also encouraging our faculty members to get financiers for their research activities and we are getting it in a significant way. Besides, the Covid-19 lockdown has also affected our expenses in 2019-20 since we could not organise any seminar and workshop after March,” he said.

The university follows an April to March financial year.

“How can the university include seminars or workshops conducted after March in the annual report of 2019-20? There is no question of the annual account of 2019-20 being affected by the imposition of lockdown,” an associate professor said on condition of anonymity.

Explaining the reason behind the increase in legal and security expenses, the registrar said: “The increase in legal cost is because of the rise in the number of cases being filed against the administration by the students and teachers. It’s not us who have moved the court.”

A senior university official, who wished not to be named, said, “In the last few years, there have been many incidents of violence and disruption at the campus leading to the increase in the security cost. It includes everything from hiring guards to installing CCTV cameras to video recorders. It is for the safety of students and faculty members living at the campus.”

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