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Birsa agri university harvests crop of problems

- VC row doesn’t touch cradle grappling with faculty crunch, salary freeze & lack of campus placements

Ranchi, June 23: Last week’s high drama over Raj Bhavan summarily ordering a freeze on Birsa Agricultural University (BAU) vice chancellor M.P. Pandey and then directing a probe against him, politically motivated or otherwise, made no difference in the lives of 500 students studying in its five constituent colleges.

The 33-year-old agriculture university, which could have been one of the state’s elite institutions offering professional education in a job-seekers’ market, is grappling with problems older than Pandey’s three-year-old tenure.

As senior IAS officer and South Chotanagpur commissioner K.K. Khandelwal, who has been given additional charge of BAU VC, is perhaps finding out, resentment is simmering among students, teachers and non-teaching staff.

A BAU faculty member, who said they were “not authorised” to speak against Raj Bhavan or the chancellor of universities (Governor Syed Ahmed), added on the condition of anonymity that unless drastic steps were taken to end manpower crunch, the university would down shutters.

His fears are not fully unfounded. Of the total sanctioned strength of 388 teachers, deans and registrars, 271 posts are vacant, including the all-important deans of agriculture, forestry and veterinary streams.

The university, which offers degrees in agriculture, agri-business, forestry and veterinary science, has too few teachers to do the courses justice.

Akriti and Suniti, both second-year agriculture students, said severe shortage of teachers affected the quality of education. Most senior teachers had retired and no action had been taken yet to fill up vacancies, both alleged unanimously, but refused to comment on the controversy surrounding their VC.

A second-year student of agri-business said they heard murmurs of the row around the VC and read details in newspapers, but frankly they were too worried about their own careers to bother much.

“We spend two years on this course. In the end, we are out on the streets. There is no system of campus placements at BAU,” he said as his friends nodded.

Forestry students said they were an underprivileged lot. “Even rural banks want agriculture graduates,” one alleged. “We have very few prospects.”

Veterinary students, however, said no one could top their plight. Beginning 2013-14 academic year, Veterinary Council of India (VCI) clamped a complete ban on all fresh admissions to college of veterinary sciences under BAU, Ranchi, citing inadequate teaching staff.

A VCI team is on BAU campus now to review the situation.

Any change is unlikely. Though Raj Bhavan lifted the ban on appointments the same time it eased out Pandey, the vacancies, to be filled by Jharkhand Public Service Commission and Jharkhand Staff Selection Commission, will take months.

BAU mid-level officials echoed the students about the scale of the problem. “We are only thinking about ourselves, not the bigger issues,” said one. “We haven’t received salaries for April and May. Funds have not yet been released by the state government.”

Among the “bigger issues” is a letter sent to Pandey by the governor’s secretariat and signed by Radhe Shyam Poddar, additional chief secretary, dated June 19, 2014. It states the governor ordered an inquiry under Jharkhand Agricultural University Act, 2000, in which retired high court judge Vikramaditya Prasad will probe “allegations of serious omissions and commissions” against Pandey.

The letter adds: “In order to obviate any undue influence on the inquiry, Honourable Chancellor has been pleased to direct that Dr M.P. Pandey shall cease to function as VC, BAU, till the completion of the inquiry”.

Another notification issued by additional chief secretary to the governor said South Chotanagpur divisional commissioner (Khandelwal) “shall perform the duties of the BAU VC till the appointment of a regular vice chancellor”.

Sources added the notification was more a “corrigendum” to Raj Bhavan’s order of June 18, which had ordered a “freeze” on the exercise of powers by Pandey as VC.

As Jharkhand Agricultural University Act, 2000, does not contain provisions of any “freeze”, the earlier order had to be modified. Going by the Act, the VC can be removed only if he is found guilty in a probe conducted by a sitting or retired judge of a high court, and after he gets the opportunity of being heard.

Pandey, due to retire in September, said: “I have been an academic all my life and have never faced such a situation. Vested interests have harmed me and humiliated me at the fag end of my career. All charges are baseless. I will seek legal remedy.”


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