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Funds fear in rush to retain kid

Santiniketan, July 11: Visva-Bharati authorities are scrambling to retain the Patha Bhavan student allegedly asked to lick her own urine by a hostel warden, fearing that her exit would fuel the controversy and lead to a possible cut in central grants.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Bengal governor have enquired about the incident and warden Uma Poddar has been suspended. She was arrested and granted bail.

Today, Patha Bhavan principal Bodhirupa Sinha, Visva-Bharati registrar Moni Mukut Mitra, a teacher of the school and senior varsity officials visited the girl’s house in Bolpur and requested her father to send her back to the school and not admit her elsewhere.

Yesterday too, Sinha had called up the girl’s father and requested him to reconsider his decision not to send the Class V student back to Patha Bhavan.

But the parents have stuck to their decision so far.

“We are as much shocked by what has happened to your daughter as you are. We are terribly upset about the incident,” Mitra told the girl’s father, who runs an electrical equipment repairing shop. “You have to think about the girl’s future. I request you to please let her return to our school. She has friends there and knows her teachers well. She will be comfortable there.”

But the girl’s father refused the proposal, a varsity official said.

Asked about the reason for the phone call and the visit by senior varsity and school employees, the official said: “This shows how desperate the university is to ensure that the girl returns to Patha Bhavan. The PMO has asked the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry to probe the allegation. The governor has written to the varsity enquiring about the incident. In this backdrop, the varsity authorities are apprehensive that the HRD ministry may get upset with the institution and not be generous with its funding.”

According to university officials, the institution sends annual budget proposals, both planned and unplanned, to the HRD ministry every year for the running of Visva-Bharati and Patha Bhavan. The Union ministry makes an assessment and gives whatever grant it thinks is appropriate. Even if Visva-Bharati needs one-time funds for development projects such as improving library infrastructure, it sends proposals to the HRD ministry.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister, who is the chancellor of Visva-Bharati, had granted Rs 150 crore to the varsity to improve infrastructure after an appeal by vice-chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta.

University officials, sources said, fear that the uproar over the urine-licking incident might prompt Delhi to reconsider granting such funds.

“The varsity is aware that this ugly incident has invited criticism from all over the country and it is harming the institution’s reputation. So Visva-Bharati is leaving no stone unturned to rectify the situation. If now the girl leaves Patha Bhavan, it will be the proverbial last nail in the coffin,” the administrator said.

Another official said people from other parts of the country considered Visva-Bharati “different” from other varsities. “The fact that it was set up by Rabindranath Tagore, the open spaces, classes being held under the shade of trees — all contributed to the peaceful image of Visva-Bharati. But incidents like this can tarnish that image and adversely impact the Centre’s generosity.”