Mahatma Gandhi-founded university floundering as Centre holds up funds

With uncertainty looming over next month's salary, the anxious staff has been desperately seeking answers from the varsity administration
Last Updated 29 January 2021, 16:23 IST

Established over a century ago by Mahatma Gandhi during the Independence movement, Gujarat Vidyapith, a deemed university, is struggling to keep itself afloat as the Ministry of Education and University Grants Commission (UGC) are said to be holding up funds as much as multiple crores meant for salary and pension distribution.

With uncertainty looming over next month's salary, the anxious staff has been desperately seeking answers from the varsity administration.

In December, the varsity, founded by Gandhi in October 1918, was left red-faced as it was forced to put a selection of new Vice-Chancellor (VC) in "abeyance" after objections raised by UGC alleging that it didn't follow the procedure. The varsity was compelled to extend current VC Anamik Shah's tenure for another six months.

The varsity is said to have agreed to start the appointment process afresh but hasn't received a word from the UGC. Similarly, neither UGC nor the Ministry of Education is responding to numerous pleas of the varsity management to sort out issues that are holding back grants.

If sources are to be believed, much of the crisis is a result of a long standing tussle between the varsity and UGC over the issue of Vidyapith's autonomy. "The varsity is 100 per cent funded by UGC but it has its own set of rules which are being disputed by the central agency. These include the appointment of its chancellor, vice-chancellor, among others. In 2016, the varsity accepted to follow the procedure in appointing a VC by including a member of UGC in the selection committee. But, when it comes to appointing chancellor, the varsity wants autonomy. Traditionally, the chancellorship of the varsity is life-long membership but the UGC guideline says the tenure should not be more than five years," said an official of the varsity in the know of the development.

Currently, Ela Bhatt, the founder of Self-Employed Women's Association, is heading the university as its chancellor who is known for Gandhian values. In the past, apart from Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Morarji Desai, Narayan Desai, among others were its life-long chancellors.

On Friday evening, a group of teachers met the current VC Anamik Shah, seeking answers on issues around grant of funds. They said that until December 2020, the UGC "owed" Rs 40 crore to varsity which is mostly grants for salary and pensions.

"What is angering everyone in the varsity is the fact that the administration is not revealing exactly what is going on. The issue with UGC and MHRD (now ministry of education) with Vidyapith is going on for several years but they never stopped grants like this," said a teacher requesting anonymity.

When contacted Anamik Shah, he told DH, "All four deemed universities and even central universities are facing financial problems. We are trying to resolve the issue. But, I can't discuss internal matters which are going on with the varsity and UGC and MHRD."

The three other deemed universities are Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, Avinashilingam University for Women, Tamil Nadu and Gurukul Kangri University in Uttarakhand. Despite repeated attempts, UGC chairman DP Singh didn't comment. Coincidentally, all these institutions are known for having "Gandhian values".

Situated close to Sabarmati Ashram, also founded by Gandhi, Gujarat Vidyapith was one of the key institutes that Gandhi established in his early years while taking up the cause of India's freedom. It has over 2000 students who mostly come from remote areas from across the state. Spinning charkha is still mandatory for students as well as faculties, a practice believed to be carrying the legacy of Gandhi's advocacy for self-reliance.

Off late, the varsity has been criticised for refusing space to those critical of the ruling government. During protests against the citizenship bill last year, the varsity had even allowed the police to enter the campus and detain its students.

"It is sad that this is happening with a Gandhian institution which caters to the needs of students who come from poor backgrounds. They may not have the best practices compared with other universities, but they are still carrying the legacy of Gandhian values. The students here can't study elsewhere as fee structure is still one of the cheapest in the state. Also, it is happening at a time when the government wants to convert Sabarmati Ashram, ten minutes from Vidyapith, into a world class museum where hundreds of crores are likely to be spent and that, too, when the government celebrated 150 years of Gandhi's birth anniversary with so much pomp and gaiety," said a member of varsity's Board of Management.

(Published 29 January 2021, 15:36 IST)

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