The University of Hyderabad non-teaching staff union has brought forward explosive allegations of corruption against the present administration, specifically against Vice Chancellor Prof. Apparao Podile. In a letter titled “Open Challenge to the Vice Chancellor” addressed to the Vigilance Officers of MHRD and UGC, calling on them to take necessary action, the employees have brought wide-ranging allegations against the Vice Chancellor, ranging from illegal appointments, unsanctioned posts, financial corruption, illegal nexus with those accused in fraud, to shielding alleged sexual offenders. A GroundXero report.
While himself flouting all kinds of rules, VC Podile has also been simultaneously using disciplinary action en masse to silence his critics. Several members of the university community, including sections of students, teachers, and non-teaching staff have been raising issues of corruption by the present university administration for years now. On 28th February, in a desperate attempt to silence critics, memos were issued by the administration on 42 non-teaching staff members who have been vocal about issues of corruption, allegedly only two days after the VC agreed to meet with them for discussions. This prompted the union to write the open letter. “How can we sit on discussions when we have got the memos?” asks the letter.
The non-teaching staff of the university have challenged the VC to an open debate on the allegations they have made. They have declared a strike on 18th of March, and have announced a gherao the VC’s office if the VC does not revoke the memos issued on staff members. The administration has been completely silent about the allegations raised, and no public statement has been issued.
VC Podile has been accused of handing out administrative appointments to his close relatives, disregarding the recommendations of the interview committee, and of illegally increasing tenures of such appointees even when there was no vacancy. Select employees have been given out-of-turn pay hikes, while others who are more senior have been denied the same. When the staff union brought this to the notice of the administration, the VC setup a committee to look into the allegations raised, but no time frame was fixed for the submission of the committee report.
The university faculty members have for long accused the VC of malpractice in the appointment of faculty members. He has been accused of employing under-qualified RSS operatives as faculty members, of handing out appointments to people related to him, and of illegally denying promotions of those who have spoken out against him in the past. Significantly, Podile was accused of abetting the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in 2016, and has maintained close ties with the BJP administration and the RSS since.
Several faculty members from the university have gone to court on promotion-related issues. Members of the university’s Academic Council (AC) recently raised allegations of the AC meeting minutes being tampered with. Several far-reaching policy decisions were allegedly inserted into the minutes, although none of them were discussed in the AC meeting. This includes a decision to take a “loan” (and not a grant) of Rs 127 crores from the Higher Education Financing Agency for “infrastructural development” of the University. “How will the university pay back this loan?” asked one faculty member who was present at the meeting and was shocked to see this ‘decision’ in the minutes circulated days after the meeting.
Another such ‘minuted’ decision was to pay a 25% extra salary for certain “Research Professors” from the common fund of the university. So was the decision to grant autonomy to individual schools in the university to start their own degree/diploma/certificate level programs, without formal approval by the AC. The VC has also time and again been accused of unilaterally controlling AC discussions, from not allowing members to speak, not allowing any time for crucial discussions, to practices such as summarizing the discussions incorrectly and getting such twisted facts minuted.
In their letter, the non-teaching staff have accused Podile of shielding Assistant Registrar Mr. Krishna Ram – a close aide of Podile – who has been accused of financial corruption. Allegedly, Mr. Krishna Ram sold property he had built using the House Building Allowance (HBA) without the permission of the University which paid for the HBA. It has been also alleged that even after selling the property, Mr. Krishna Ram continued the recovery of HBA from his salary and also claimed income tax benefits. After this was made public in January 2017, although recovery with penalty was initiated, no disciplinary action has been taken against Mr. Krishna Ram in accordance with the Central Civil Services (Conduct) rules. The non-teaching staff union has claimed that no action has been initiated even after directions were issued by the Vigilance Cell of UGC/MHRD, whereas CCS rules have been regularly used by the VC to take action against lesser ranked administrative staff including lab assistants and cooks, for “very small mistakes”.
Mr. Krishna Ram continues to work in the VC’s office as one of his closest aides, and has also been allegedly handling files from the Registrar’s office that pertain to the investigation into his own fraud. Mr. Krishna Ram is not the first, and by no means the only employee of the university to have perpetrated such frauds with the HBA. According to some accounts, around 74 employees over time – including faculty members – have been served with memos by the university administration for corruption related to HBA. It is however the same administration which has been shielding Krishna Ram, which goes to show that not only is such corruption rampant in the University of Hyderabad, but that it is also a weapon for powerful lobbies in the university to cement their own positions by selectively targeting employees with corruption charges. Mr. Krishna Ram has even been accused of working as “de facto VC” at times.
The staff union has also accused the VC of shielding sexual harassers in the administration. Allegedly, a woman employee had brought allegations of sexual harassment by one of the Deputy Registrars (DR). No serious action was taken against the accused, except for a ‘warning letter.’ Another DR has been accused of misappropriating a sum of Rs 1 crore, and the VC has been accused of protecting him. Yet another DR on deputation has been accused of mishandling transactions related to the university guest house. In this case as well, the VC, instead of initiating any kind of disciplinary action, simply released him from his deputation at the guest house so he could rejoin his earlier organisation. Several technical maintenance staff of the university were allegedly recruited under ‘Temporary Status’ without informing the UGC. Many of them now face serious uncertainty of getting paid at all, since the UGC has approved no funds for such positions.
In another bizarre revelation, the staff union pointed out that the VC has appointed the same person – one Y.V. Krishna Rao – as both his Finance Officer (FO) as well as the Internal Audit Officer (IAO), even when these two positions are by definition in contradiction with each other. The task of the IAO is to scrutinize proposals of spending, while that of the FO is to approve such proposals. In this case therefore, Mr. Krishna Rao himself approves and ‘scrutinizes’ proposals.
It is also alleged that Podile has unilaterally appointed a retired Telangana ACP as his Chief Security Officer, flouting the applications deadline and refusing to set up a screening committee as per rules. In other allegations, the VC has been accused of illegally appointing a retired faculty from the Philosophy department as ‘Professor-in-Charge’ of the University Works Department, even as the post of University Engineer lies vacant. The faculty in question is reportedly not just retired, but has also completed his superannuation (extension of employment at reduced pay, post official retirement) period. The VC has being accused of having financial ties with this faculty member in question.
Other than this, several allegations have been brought by the staff on issues of quarter allotments and inter-departmental transfer of staff. While many staff members have been transferred based on complaints filed by officers like the Chief Warden etc., others allegedly close to the administration have been continuing in their respective roles even after the completion of 5 years at one department, after which a staff must be transferred to a new department, according to rules. The VC has been accused of keeping the same person as the Chief Warden of the University for more than 2 years, for example.
The VC has also been accused of using two vehicles – one of them for his personal (“residential”) use – whose expenses allegedly go well beyond the UGC regulations. He has also been maintaining two persons from the local police department as his personal security for the past two years. Questions have been raised regarding the source of the salaries for these police officers. Questions have also been raised surrounding the “huge expenditure” bills from the VC’s lodge for security, horticulture, house-keeping, electricity, water, renovation of the VC’s office, etc.
“This VC is also involving himself directly in appointing/removing the out-sourcing staff. All the out-sourcing staff are in tremendous pressure and they are frightened about their duty,” said the non-teaching staffs’ letter. Matters of appointment or removal of staff come under the purview of the Registrar, but Podile has been repeatedly accused of running the appointments in the university unilaterally, flouting all notions of legality. The out-sourcing staff of the university involve a precariously placed, severely under-paid, and socially insecure workforce including, for instance, the sanitation workers. Sanitation workers of the university have for many years waged struggles for minimum wage, social security, and regularisation. Their demands have been largely ignored.VC There have been recent incidents of out-sourcing staff being removed from their jobs on the whim of the VC, despite the fact that some of them have been working in the university for over10 years. In addition to all this, the women sanitation workers in particular have also raised allegations of sexual harassment at their workplace, but no action has been taken against the accused. One of the Deputy Registrars against whom a sanitation worker had filed a sexual harassment complaint was in fact subsequently promoted, while the complainant was transferred.
Meanwhile, several critical positions in the university remain vacant. Even after a new Department of Education was started by the university, with regular faculty members, no regular positions were filled in the department office. The School of Humanities office has been under-staffed for years, so is the Physics Dean’s office. The Center for Cognitive Science office is running with one Section Officer from the Administration block on deputation, so are important sections such as the Establishment Section (Faculty) and Estate/Guest House/Central Tendering Offices. While the non-teaching staff at the university are routinely overworked, the Registrar’s Office has recently issued a circular constituting a committee to conduct “surprise checks” on non-teaching staff working in the various schools and departments across the university. “Mr. VC, can you please enlighten the NT [non-teaching] community about the adherence of the regulations that are being presently followed in case of availability of Faculty in Schools/Departments?” asked the non-teaching staff union members.
Several students in the University have over the past few years questioned crumbling infrastructure in the University owing to corrupt practices and vacant posts. These students have been grilled by the Proctorial Committee with members appointed by the VC, and were imposed fines amounting to tens of thousands of rupees, on multiple occasions. “We feel that you don’t have any right to continue as VC even for one minute because of your indifferent, unethical, unreasonable, undemocratic, and unlawful attitude towards issues of Non-Teaching Employees etc. In view of the above, we once again challenge you for open debate on the above stated issues at any given point of date and time and as per your convenience,” concluded the letter from the non-teaching staff. The University of Hyderabad Teacher’s Association has asked the administration to come for negotiations with the non-teaching staff, to prevent further “flaring up of the crisis”. The teachers expressed that a stoppage of work in the administration as the semester examinations approach, is going to create panic in the University, particularly among students. They also demanded an enquiry into the allegations brought by the non-teaching staff of the University.