Chandigarh: Professor Raj Kumar, whose appointment as Vice-Chancellor of Chandigarh’s Panjab University in 2018 was mired in controversy, is learned to have resigned under pressure following allegations of corruption and malpractices against him. However, most members of faculty at PU are of the opinion that his resignation alone will not undo the layers of alleged graft.
The matter came to light on Monday, January 16, after Jagdeep Dhankhar, the Vice-President of India, who also serves as the university’s chancellor, accepted his resignation and appointed Renu Vig as an interim V-C.
Kumar’s appointment in 2018 had been widely regarded as having come about as a result of his close ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party and he was rumoured to have been appointed after the panel had already interviewed nine applicants. Some of these applicants, say PU professors, were better suited to lead the institution.
Now, however, local leaders of BJP have hailed the fact that Kumar has resigned.
Former BJP MP Satya Pal Jain was quoted by media as having said that the V-C was given two options – to face inquiry or to resign, and that he opted for the latter. Jain is now additional solicitor general of India. He could not be contacted for this report.
Many in the campus believe his tenure was a major setback to one of the oldest universities in India, which started in Lahore, now in Pakistan, in 1882 and has a long tradition of academic excellence.
Kumar was initially appointed for three years but in 2021, he was given a three-year extension. While problems began to be seen within months after his appointment, there was a nature lull in administrative affairs during the onset of COVID-19. It was thus only in the past year that Kumar’s alleged wrongdoings – from purported out of turn appointments to alleged botched recruitments to a flourishing bribe taking practice came into focus.
In the last year, university administrators unsympathetic to Kumar filed several complaints against the V-C to the vice-president.
Calls for inquiry
While Kumar himself is mum on the long list of corruption allegations against him, several university senators with whom The Wire spoke as well as the elected teachers body on the campus, Panjab University Teachers Association (PUTA), are not satisfied with his resignation alone and have variously pushed for stronger action to be taken against him.
PUTA president Supinder Kaur told The Wire that resigning from post is one thing but there has to be a proper inquiry into Kumar’s alleged misdeeds so that things are crystal clear.
“This university is not someone’s private property. If things have gone wrong here, an example must be set to prevent it in the future,” she added.
Allegations by teachers’ association
On a complaint marked to vice-president Dhankhar on December 21, 2022, the PUTA alleged serious charges of graft in recruiting ministerial staff in the engineering wing of the campus under the watch of the V-C.
It also alleged that the V-C made arbitrary appointments in key positions, ignoring seniority and showing favouritism.
The PUTA has also claimed that Kumar promoted the culture of giving gifts to get things done on campus.
They said the former V-C delayed promotions of teachers who did not agree with him on key issues.
Kumar, according to PUTA, also failed to conduct the election of deans of various faculties under one pretext or another, thereby creating an administrative vacuum on campus. PUTA also accused him of tampering with the electoral process for appointing deans, for which, it said, Kumar was even reprimanded by Punjab and Haryana high court on December 2, 2022.
PUTA further alleged that the greatest damage affected by Kumar to this was to delay the National Assessment and Accreditation Council accreditation process, due since June 2022. As a result, the university has been without an NAAC grade for the past six months.
The NAAC is a government organisation that assesses and accredits Higher Education Institutions in India.
The V-C, PUTA alleged, has asked for an extension for the submission of the ‘Self Study Report’ of the university. The self-evaluation
process and the subsequent preparation of the report to be submitted to NAAC forms the “backbone” of the accreditation process, the NAAC notes.
“This had seriously tarnished the image of the University and its teachers at the national and international levels, while the Vice-Chancellor was preoccupied with his self-promotional endeavours,” PUTA alleged.
PUTA president Supinder Kaur told The Wire that these allegations were “not based on hearsay but on strong evidence”.
“He was deeply involved in wrongdoings and never bothered to follow official norms when he was supposed to uphold them, being the boss of the university,” she added.
“During his tenure, he never bothered about improving the academic excellence of the university. He was busy in other ways,” she further said.
Senators’ complaints to Vice-President
Apart from PUTA, over a dozen university senators wrote with complaints against the V-C to the vice-president Dhankhar, alleging financial irregularities and other violations.
In one such letter to VP Dhankhar last month, senators Varinder Singh Gill, Jagwant Singh and S.S. Sangha alleged corruption in the recruitment of multi-tasking staff (MTS).
The task of inspecting the affiliation of people considered for the job was given to select people close to Kumar, they said.
In another letter, senators Rajat Sandhir and Jatinder Grover raised the issue of irregularities in Unfair Means Cases (UMCs). When students are caught for irregularities or adopting unfair means in exams, their cases are dealt with by the UMC. The two senators alleged that the practice of taking bribes common in such cases.
D.P. Radhawa, Shaminder Singh Sandhu, Sandeep Kataria, Jagdeep Kumar, were other senators who made similar allegations as those mentioned above, with the VP.
‘Lenience’ to ABVP
Throughout his four and half year tenure, Kumar has on various instances denied ties to the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In 2018, some pointed to the fact that he had put up a trident at his residence as alleged proof of his connections to the BJP-RSS. More importantly, he was accused of helping Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the youth wing of the RSS, in increasing its support base on the campus.
Amandeep Kaur, member of PSU (Lalkar), a Leftist student party, told The Wire that ABVP members were “given a free hand to carry out their political activities or protests while other student parties had to face a lot of restrictions from university’s security personnel.”
She also said ABVP got “internal help during the student council elections” in which it has not yet won.
Professor Rajat Sandhir, a biochemistry teacher at PU and among those college senators who wrote to the vice-president, told The Wire that Kumar’s appointment in 2018 itself was a surprise.
Kumar was the Dean and Head of Institute of Management Studies at Banaras Hindu University at the time of his appointment.
“Several prominent names in the selection list were of academics who had proven track records, including Professor R.K. Kohli. They were overlooked at the time of his appointment,” Sandhir said.
Kohli, a former PU botany teacher, eventually became the V-C of the Central University of Punjab
Sandhir said Kumar’s appointment and the resulting mishandling of campus responsibilities showed the pitfalls of making “political appointments.”
When contacted, Kumar said all allegations against him were false and declined to answer whether he would be open to an inquiry into the allegations against him.
Featured image: The Gandhi Bhawan at Panjab University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
This article was first published on The Wire.