JNUTA Note on the letter, dated 3rd March 2016, issued by the MHRD to the Chairman, UGC and copied to Vice-Chancellors of all Central Universities

jnuta

Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association

(JNUTA)

April 4, 2016

The said letter has the purported objective of “improving financial management and strict compliance of rules/procedures” and calls for implementation of provisions of the Act/Statutes of Central Universities. The letter does not actually cite any specific instance(s) of violations or rules of propriety but only invokes the Supreme Court’s recurrent concern with the “need for proper utilization of Public Funds/Taxpayer’s money”. However, the ‘directives’ to Universities issued in the name of these laudable objectives may do little towards achieving them. Instead, they go against the letter and the spirit of at least the Act/Statutes of Jawaharlal Nehru University; represent an attack on University autonomy; and have the additional practical implication of creating a system which might paralyze decision-making and prevent proper utilization of funds.

Section 12 of the JNU Act vests the power of general management of revenue and property with the Executive Council (EC), one among the Authorities of the University, which are further elaborated in Statute 14. Section 9 of the Act and Statutes 8 and 9 specify that the Registrar and the Finance Officer (FO) are officers of the University who are appointed by the EC. Neither is an ex-officio member of the EC, whose composition is specified in Statute 13. While the Registrar is the Secretary of the Executive Council as per Section 9 of the Act, Statute 8 makes it clear that this is not sufficient to make him a member of that authority. Statute 9 also stipulates that the FO is to discharge the responsibilities of that office ‘subject to control of EC’. The FO is also the Secretary of the Finance Committee (FC) chaired by the VC, and the responsibilities of the FC as per Statute 19 are “to examine accounts and scrutinize proposals for expenditure” and to consider and comment on the annual accounts and financial estimates prepared by the FO which are “thereafter submitted to the Executive Council for approval with or without amendments”. Section 20 of the Act also stipulates that accounts of the University would have to be audited by the C & AG or any person authorised by him. Finally, the EC includes four Visitor’s nominees and three members of the Court appointed by the Visitor, who is the President of India. The FC also has Visitor’s nominees and there are also several other provisions regarding reporting matters to the Visitor.

In contrast to the structure of decision-making and accountability implicit in the above description of provisions of the Act/Statutes of JNU, the letter from the MHRD effectively vests veto powers with the Registrar and VC, and also the FC, on EC decisions – in the exercise of which they would not be accountable to the EC but to some authority outside the University. It holds the Registrar to be responsible individually for ensuring that no agenda item “which has financial implications is put before the EC without the explicit approval of the FC” (emphasis added). Further, the FO and the Registrar are to be responsible for ensuring that in administrative matters, “decisions must be taken in strict conformity with the rules and regulations, instructions of Government of India/UGC, failing which strict disciplinary action will be taken against the responsible officials”. It threatens further to deduct amounts from the grants of the University which are to be recovered from the salaries of officials responsible for any such decision(s). The FO is also instructed to “not release funds on such decisions of EC/FC which are not in accordance with extant rules/regulations/instructions”.

The MHRD letter further says that “all agenda items should be prepared by the Central Universities well in advance and sent to MHRD (CU Bureau and Finance (IFD) Bureau) and the UGC at least two weeks before the meeting so that proper scrutiny of agenda items along with the observations of the regulator as well as the Ministry are put on record”. There is no provision in the Act/Statutes of the University, or any other legal basis, from which this directive flows given that the University is not a government department but a statutory body created through an act of the Indian Parliament.

The teachers of the University are well aware of the need to ensure that public money received by the University is utilized in the best possible manner and the importance of transparency and fixing responsibility in this regard. Indeed the teachers have always demanded greater transparency and accountability. The MHRD directives however, by transferring the powers of decision-making at the University level to individual officers within the University and away from statutory authorities, and subjecting this decision-making to micro-management by authorities outside the University – do not further the objective of transparency and accountability. Instead, they go completely against these objectives apart from emasculating further the autonomy of the University. Additionally, the conception of proper utilization and accountability underlying the directives is a negative one – defined only by the absence of expenditures which are supposedly contrary to rules and regulations rather than the best or most efficient use of the resources consistent with those rules and regulations. This, combined with the other measures that are part of the directives, can only create a system with an inherent conservative tendency towards blocking and unnecessarily delaying expenditures, no matter how necessary and legitimate they may be. JNU already suffers the adverse consequences of some of these problems – the MHRD directives only promise to make things worse.

(Ajay Patnaik)

President, JNUTA

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