Calcutta, July 31: A fight between the tight-fisted bureaucracy and academia that does not have the money to pay its teachers was waiting to break out, and it has.
Reeling under a glut of vacancies, which were threatening normal academic work, the state’s only agriculture university took on the department under which it works after it tried to put a spanner in the efforts to re-employ 15 teachers.
In response to the agriculture department’s “directive” to overturn the decision and its “threat” to not pay the re-employed teachers, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Visvavidyalay vice-chancellor Debabrata Dasgupta “reminded” Writers’ Buildings mandarins that he was answerable only to the chancellor, governor Viren J. Shah. Dasgupta even said he would seek Shah’s intervention if the situation so demanded.
The riposte, which threatened to bring about an administrative deadlock of the kind not seen in recent times, had the support of Dasgupta’s colleagues and teachers of other varsities.
The fracas began with agriculture department secretary R.S. Brama reminding Dasgupta in a letter about the government’s “austerity” drive. “This government, as a matter of principle, is not in favour of re-employment/extension of service beyond the age of superannuation except in rare exceptional circumstances,” the letter said. The measures were for “economic discipline” as suggested by a circular from the finance department.
“Such appointments already made should be discontinued forthwith,” said the letter — unusual for a communication with a vice-chancellor — referring to the re-employments.
The grant-in-aid that the university received from his department would exclude the amount required for the salary of the 15 teachers, Brama added.
The vice-chancellor and academic fraternity took exception to the missive. “How can a departmental secretary direct a vice-chancellor to overturn his decisions'” asked All-Bengal University Teachers’ Association general secretary Dipak Banerjee. “We are calling for the governor’s intervention as this is undue interference in academics by the bureaucracy,” he said.
Dasgupta said as much. The university had “many vacancies” and it was imperative for him to extend the services of the 15 teachers, he said. All but one of the teachers were from the agriculture faculty. “I am a teaching vice-chancellor and am answerable only to the governor of the state,” Dasgupta said, insisting that he was not “budging an inch”.
The straight talk forced the farm department on the back-foot. Officials from Writers’ called up Dasgupta yesterday to ask how the fence could be mended. The VC stuck to his guns and the officials relented, sources in the department said.
“The university has been allowed to go ahead with the current round of extensions of service,” Brama told The Telegraph today. But he also claimed a victory: “The varsity will henceforth have to seek the department’s permission before giving extensions of service to teachers.”