IIT professors go on hunger strike; no solution in sight

With both government and IIT faculty refusing to budge from their stands on the issue of pay structure, no end to the strike appeared in sight even as HRD minister Kapil Sibal said he is open to have dialogue with the agitating professors on their demands. He, however ruled out "world class" salaries due to lack of resources.

"Our fast was very successful today. We are yet to get any response from the HRD Ministry on our demand for a joint meeting with the representatives of the ministry, IIT directors and us. We hope the ministry will get back to us," all-India IIT Faculty Federation President M Thenmozi said.

Criticising the agitation by the IIT faculty, Sibal said "this (agitation) has nothing to do with the autonomy or functioning of IITs. It is only, and only, about pay structure." The minister also contended that he believed in dialogue but made it clear that he was upset by the "ultimatum" of October 1 set by the protesting faculty to address their grievances. However, in a statement, the faculty said "this protest of ours is not merely about salary hike of IIT teachers but also about upholding their dignity and morale".

The IIT faculty performed their normal teaching and other academic duties while on fast. They organised a panel discussion on "IITs and the IIT System: Vision for 2030". The faculty has been protesting the 40 per cent cap on promotion of professors to senior grade and contractual appointment of Ph.D holders at entry level. They are saying Ph.D holders would not be interested in joining the institutes in view of such conditions.

However, Sibal disapproved of the method of agitation by the faculty and justified the cap, saying it was an incentive and it will not remain so if the benefits are extended to all.

"They (faculty) need to look at themselves. I will be too happy to discuss anything," he said. He disagreed with the contention of IIT faculty that there will be shortage of teaching staff in the prestigious institutes due to rigid hiring process, saying "there is no official data to suggest that".

Sibal said India has to work under "some constraints" and it cannot afford the same kind of freedom or salaries which other developed countries like the US can afford. "America is a four trillion Dollar economy with 280 million people. It can afford to have the kind of quality private universities it has and give kind of freedom, money, salary that are given there.

"But if you look at my budget, it is insufficient to meet the needs of a knowledge society. We must understand each other, the constraints of the government. We need to get together to work the system out," he said.

The faculty, however, alleged the new pay structure seeks to so away with the "flexible cadre system which has been at the core of excellence of the IIT system". The faculty said it has clearly spelt out all the "anomalies" in the pay notifications through the memorandum submitted to the ministry.

Federation president Thenmozhi said "when the government is planning to give complete autonomy to the 14 innovative universities, which are yet to be set up, the existing autonomy of IITs should be honoured."

Meanwhile, the proposed meeting of the IIT faculty representatives with the IIT directors on Friday has been postponed. "The meeting to discuss the issue of pay structure has been postponed because two IIT directors are out of station. Now, we are looking forward to a joint meeting with the directors and HRD representatives before October 1," she said.

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