The Delhi University Teachers' Association has organised a four-day boycott of staff responsibilities starting September 28, protesting the delay in the release of funds by the Delhi government. More than fifty colleges of Delhi University, including Shri Ram College of Commerce, Lady Shri Ram College, Miranda House, Hindu College, have joined the protest. The DUTA had earlier called a similar strike earlier in September. Due to the lack of funds, many teachers have not received their salaries for the past few months. At least 12 DU colleges are fully funded by the Delhi government. After the initial strike, the funds for only six out of the 12 were released.
Rajib Ray, the president of DUTA, said, "The Delhi government sanctioned almost Rs 32 crore to pay only six of the 12 colleges after we organised our three-day strike which concluded recently.” He added, "They only suffice for 2-3 months of salaries in six out of twelve colleges which are fully funded by the Delhi government. We have been vociferously demanding for all twelve colleges to receive grants, but they merely released half of them, therefore we are continuing with our resistance so that staff in remaining colleges get remunerated."
In protest against the sporadic release of funds, the DUTA is gearing up to initiate a cluster-wise strike and encourage different colleges of the university to participate. On October 2, the teachers will observe a hunger strike from 9 am to 5 pm.
Responding to why the funds had not been released for the other six colleges, Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi, said there was "huge misappropriation in their accounts." He said in a statement, "The colleges have been screaming about not having funds and creating noise about the Delhi government not releasing it. In preliminary observations, it has come forward that these colleges have kept funds in fixed deposits in an illegal manner. They are not paying salaries; the university and college administrations are doing politics together. They have crores with them but are not paying teachers’ salaries despite that."
Responding to this, Rajib Ray told Newslaundry, "Initially it started when we were resisting against the governing bodies and now an audit probe has come. What do individual teachers and non-teaching staff have got to do with it? They are innocent. Let them audit, but it shouldn't mean that you won't disburse salaries and pensions of employees for so long."
The six colleges which haven't received the grants are Aditi Mahavidyalaya, Bhagini Nivedita College, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College, Keshav Mahavidyalaya, Maharshi Valmiki College of Education, and Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies.
The DUTA issued a press release on September 28 stating, "Repeated attempts to tarnish the image of these colleges through unsubstantial statements about financial misdemeanor are unacceptable. Allegations of corruption, if any, must be proved and substantiated. While the Government is free to act against the financial misdeed, repeatedly subjecting these institutions to audit (even after three audits) smacks of an overreach and suggests that the Delhi Government is only interested in settling some political scores."
On the question of fixing responsibility, Rajib Ray said, "It lies with both the university and the Delhi government that things have come down to this. If there were problems, then the university should have been proactive to look into the matter. As far as funds are concerned, Delhi government should take that responsibility."
He added, "This problem has not occurred in 95 percent of the colleges which are partially funded by the Delhi government. There, funds are released by the University Grants Commission. We see these inadequacies happen only with the 12 colleges which are fully funded by them. Even medical reimbursements are at halt. I hope it gets over without any mishap because people are in really bad shape due to the pandemic."
The DUTA has been complaining of the inordinate and unexplained delays in release of grants for five months now. In April, the teachers alleged that the university’s vice chancellor, Professor Yogesh Tyagi, had diverted staff's donations for Covid relief from the Prime Minister National Relief Fund to the PM Cares fund without their consent.
Meanwhile, some students have expressed disquiet about the abrupt class suspensions. Arunima Tripathi, a second year undergraduate student from Kirori Mal College and the cultural president at Delhi University, said, "We stand with the teachers in such tough times, but these erratic patterns of strikes worry us. Online classes are tough to manage and then random cancelling adds more to depletion of learning. I understand how painstakingly the staff must have been working in a pandemic without salaries, therefore I hope the matter gets resolved at the earliest. It's about time."
Shakti Singh, president of the Delhi University Students' Union, alleged that the Delhi government used the college funds to pay salaries to their staff instead. He told Newslaundry, "We are not in agreement with the steps taken by the Delhi government. Students' welfare gets directly affected by such decisions since funds are especially released for their development. DUSU condemns such behaviour and in no way promotes educational funds being misused for financing salaries of the employees."
This is not the first time the DUTA has come out to protest and boycotted classes and responsibilities. In December last year, their battle for absorption of ad-hoc teachers in Delhi University made headlines as hundreds of teachers marched outside the vice chancellor's office. They marked fifty days of the protest in January but had to call off the strike in March due to the spread of coronavirus. They have also vehemently supported students welfare and opposed the online open book exams. Since April, however, they have been fighting for the rights of the staff of the university to be paid their due salaries.