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Agri varsity pays for minister’s ‘farmers’

Ranchi, June 26: Birsa Agricultural University (BAU) pays for gardeners working at the home-cum-office of agriculture minister Yogendra Sao, presumably so that he can have fresh salads on his dinner table.

This startling disclosure of a Jharkhand minister’s privilege, sponsored by a state varsity, emerged on a day BAU celebrated its 34th foundation day, with the very minister in attendance as chief guest.

In the news for the messy battle between its vice chancellor M.P. Pandey and Raj Bhavan and agriculture minister Yogendra Sao, BAU has emerged as the paymaster of the minister’s “farm”.

Beleaguered by cash and manpower crunch, lack of campus placements and dwindling students, the varsity has been paying for at least seven BAU contractual workers working as personal staff at Sao’s official residence in the capital for the past seven months.

The Telegraph has in its possession an official letter written by Sao’s private secretary, who also happens to be his brother-in-law, Mukesh Kumar. Written to BAU VC M.P. Pandey, dated April 1, 2014, it states seven contractual workers were deputed at the minister’s residence-cum-office in March.

“You are requested to ensure their payments,” Kumar intones.

The minister’s office also furnishes a list of contractual labourers with their respective bank accounts and IFSC codes. They include Amrit Devi (PNB Ranchi, 0404000300326400), Mahesh Saw (SBI Ranchi, 30290004543), Sanjeet Kumar (BOI Ranchi, 459810110000433), Sunil Giri (Central Bank of India, Dhanbad 1539699995), Sanjog Bedia (SBI Barkakana, 33440360434), Pankaj Kumar (BOI Barkagaon, 482110100011970) and Manohar Oraon (BOI Sisai, 456910110003407).

Contacted, Sao initially denied it. Pressed with documents, he said: Dekhna padega ki kya mamla hai. Mukesh kuccho kuccho karta hoga pata karenge. (I’ll have to see. Mukesh may have done something, I’ll find out).”

Kumar was more blasť. “Yeh sab log mantriji ke sarkari awas par kheti ka kaam dekhte hain. Isme galat kya hai? Mantri ka bhi to kuch privilege hota hai. (These people oversee farming at the minister’s home. What’s wrong? A minister has some privilege),” he said.

So, BAU, an autonomous institution of higher learning, has paid around Rs 2.5 lakh to seven contractual workers “employed” to grow crops for the minister.

Sao is not alone in misusing BAU’s manpower.

Around 10-17 BAU contractual labourers look after the governor’s garden. The university pays them too.

There is no rule that says the governor-cum-chancellor or any minister can ask for such facilities from BAU. But the unspoken rule is more powerful.

“We work under tremendous pressure. We are vulnerable,” said a senior BAU official.

True, Pandey, appointed as BAU VC in 2011, did not have an easy job. After his powers were stripped by the governor’s order last week, he filed a writ petition in high court yesterday, calling his removal a vendetta for refusing to bend to his political masters.

Though no one spoke on Pandey on the 600-acre lush Kanke campus at the foundation day today, some speakers dared to air varsity woes as far as was possible on a forum where Sao and Kanke MLA Ramchandra Baitha were chief guests.

N.K. Rai, director, student’s welfare in BAU pointed out that over the past three decades, varsity work culture had declined.

“Working relationships among teachers and non-teachers alike are at their lowest ebb. I joined as a junior scientist in 1982 and I have been witness to the steady decline. There is serious need for introspection,” he said.

R.P. Singh Ratan, director, extension education, BAU, now officiating as BAU vice chancellor as authorised by Kolhan commissioner K.K. Khandelwal, conceded the university was beset with systems collapse. “There is serious shortage of teaching staff, which led Veterinary Council of India to ban fresh admissions to the undergraduate course in 2013. The number of students taking admissions is too few. BAU does not look like a university,” Ratan said.

He added BAU had accumulated an overdraft of Rs 20 crore in banks. “Salaries to BAU teachers and non-teaching staff haven’t been released by the state for the past two months,” he said.

To this, minister Sao promised BAU a one-time loan of Rs 100 crore. “There is no shortage of funds since we are already unable to ensure 100 per cent utilisation of the state agriculture budget,” he said. True, a small price to pay for his fresh vegetables.

With inputs by Rudra Biswas


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