TIFR withdraws gag on employees and families
The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research on Monday withdrew a five-day-old circular that had asked staff and their families not to post “anti-government content” on social media, the retraction coming after protests from academics within and outside its campus.
Before the late evening withdrawal, several TIFR teachers and other academics had told The Telegraph that the circular, issued by the registrar on Wednesday, lacked sanction from the institution’s rules and reflected the government’s “increasing intolerance of criticism”.
Many had been particularly outraged that the employees’ family members had been included in the ambit of the ban. Some had said the circular represented a “psychological warfare” aimed at intimidating academics and should be legally challenged.
Several TIFR teachers had protested through Monday, individually expressing their displeasure to institute director S. Ramakrishnan via emails and phone calls.
Later on Monday evening, the registrar, retired Wing Commander George Antony, withdrew Wednesday’s circular by issuing another that made it clear that the ban had come at the behest of the central government’s department of atomic energy (DAE), which has administrative control over the institute.
The latest circular did not directly mention the diktat not to post “anti-government” content, choosing to refer only to the April 13 circular’s parallel ban on staff and their families posting “photographs/ videos of DAE offices and facilities”.
“Reference is made to the notice dated April 13, 2022 whereby the guidelines received from DAE advising staff members to refrain/ desist from uploading any photographs or videos related to DAE (including the constituent units and AIs) were reiterated,” Monday’s circular said.
“Now, with the approval of the competent authority, the above-mentioned notice dated April 13, 2022 stands withdrawn.”
Earlier on Monday, a senior TIFR faculty member had told this newspaper: “We have been assured by the administration that corrective action will be taken (following the teacher protests).”
Requesting anonymity, he had added: “Faculty members see it (the diktat) as a restriction on their freedom of expression and as interference in their private lives. The family members cannot be brought under any rule of the institution. Also, it goes against court rulings that have protected the sanctity of academic freedom.”
A faculty member at an outstation arm of the TIFR had said: “The circular is a worrying sign of the government’s increasing intolerance of criticism. The circular is outrageous and has no basis in the TIFR’s rules and by-laws, which restrict participation in active politics but do not prevent employees from criticising the government or public policies.”
Section 4.1.7 of the by-laws for the TIFR administration and management only says: “An employee shall devote his/ her whole time to the service of the institute and shall not take active part in politics.”
The academic had initially been willing to be quoted but, after Wednesday’s circular was withdrawn, requested that he not be named since the matter had been resolved.
A Delhi-based academic not connected to the TIFR had earlier in the day said the government wanted to sow fear in the minds of the academic community with “unconstitutional orders” like Wednesday’s circular.
“Government servants are bound by service rules to protect confidentiality. The academic community, in contrast, deals with the creation of new knowledge for public welfare. These rules of conduct do not apply to academics,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“The government thrusts the restrictive rules on academics to create fear. There is no legal basis for it. This is psychological warfare.”
Former Allahabad University vice-chancellor Rajen Harshe had said that academic institutions were expected to research diverse areas, including society and public policy, and their findings might very well show the government in a poor light. That apart, teachers and staff have every right to criticise the government, he said.
“The conduct rules that apply to government employees should not be enforced on faculty members at academic institutions, which are autonomous bodies operating under their own rules,” Harshe said.
“If the institute has not followed its own rules while issuing a circular, it should be challenged legally,” he had added, speaking before the circular was withdrawn.
On the ban being extended to employees’ family members, Harshe had said: “Since employees’ relatives are not directly serving the institution, it is not appropriate to bind them with such rules.”