The Panjab University Case Study: Why Its Status Remains Emotional, Political for Punjab

The Punjab Assembly on June 30 passed a resolution against the centralisation of the Panjab University (PU), Chandigarh.

The resolution said, “Any decision to change the character of the Panjab University won’t be acceptable to the people of Punjab and therefore, strongly recommends that no change in the nature and character of this University should be considered by the Government of India.”

It further said, “Any proposal, in case it is being considered, should be dropped with immediate effect.”

The move comes after the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to the Union government to consider the issue of conversion of PU into a Central University, based on a petition filed by Dr Sangita Bhalla.

The matter has been adjourned for August 30.

TEACHERS EYEING CENTRAL BENEFITS

The Union government implemented central service rules in Chandigarh this year. This means Central pay scales, along with other benefits, for PU teachers.

Although a majority of PU teachers have been demanding the central university status for many years, the Union government’s recent move has made their resolve stronger. The central rules would mean an increase in the retirement age too.

However, there are others who want all the benefits, but not the character of the university to be changed because of its historicity.

Dr Bhalla said, “We want UGC pay scales. We want pay parity and benefits equal to the employees of Chandigarh (with Central service rules).”

EMOTIONAL AND POLITICAL ISSUE

While the demand of teachers is due to financial reasons, the Punjab government’s stand is more emotional and political.

The PU is a historic university, with roots in Lahore. The university there was established in 1882 and after Partition, it was established here on October 1, 1947 through an ordinance issued by the Central Government on September 27. A visit to the PU website can give details of the partition and history of this university.

After the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966, when Chandigarh’s status was changed, the PU became an inter-state body. Gradually, the colleges of Himachal and Haryana were affiliated to the universities in the respective states. This also formed the basis of some members in the Punjab Assembly, raising the question of how the PU is still an inter-state body when Haryana and Himachal do not contribute to it.

Punjab sees PU’s centralisation as dilution of Punjab’s right over Chandigarh, which was created as a capital for the Eastern Punjab (in place of Lahore), built on Punjabi-speaking areas. The PU, too, was created as a university for the Eastern Punjab in place of the university left in Lahore. The status of Chandigarh has remained unchanged and unresolved. So is the status of Panjab University.

Apart from this, the PU is a university with a unique character, and only one such with an autonomous governing body, the Senate. With the Central university status, the Senate would also be done away with. Many feel the university will lose its democratic character. While the teachers want pay parity, a great many of them do not want the structure to be changed. The matter is majorly about funding, pay scales and pay commission.

The issue to give Chandigarh to Punjab, which was built on Punjabi-speaking areas, has been raised in the Punjab assembly on several occasions. Many feel if the status of Chandigarh is decided, it would resolve all matters, including the status of PU.

Amandeep Kaur, a leader of Punjab Students Union (Lalkar), said, “The resolution passed in the Vidhan Sabha is about maintaining status quo of the university. It should have been about giving the rights over the PU back to Punjab because in the past many years, the university is nearly governed by the Centre rather than Punjab.”

Several student unions, which have more students from Punjab, have started a campaign to bring more students from Punjab to the campus this year.

HERITAGE STATUS

Former Senator Prof Chaman Lal said, “The Punjab government has a duty to the PU and should invest in such educational institutions.”

He said that the university could have been given heritage status where the funding would be cared for by the Union government, but the university’s character remains the same. He also demanded that the Chancellor of PU should be the Punjab Governor as the V-C is appointed by the VPI now.

After the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966, when Chandigarh’s status was changed, the PU became an inter-state body. (University website)

Prof Lal is of the view that the resolution to claim Chandigarh should have been passed.

The teachers also mention that at one point, Punjab used to pay 40% of the grant which has now come down to 5-6%.

FUNDING FROM PUNJAB

Every year, the government of Punjab pays a grant to the PU, with 6% annual enhancement. The last enhancement was made a few years ago and the grant with such an increase was paid in 2018 for the first time. Earlier, there was a fixed amount of Rs 20 crore.

However, in April, the Punjab government’s finance department conveyed to the university: “There has never been a decision to agree to enhancement in the Punjab University’s grant @6% p.a. As such the Department of Finance regrets its inability to agree to it (sic).”

Education minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer recited Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s speech in PU on March 5, 1949 in the assembly, telling a tale of the Partition and the Partition of Punjab’s university. He mentioned in the Assembly that the Punjab government, apart from the annual grant, is giving the university around Rs 100 crore in terms of income from affiliated colleges. This income is mainly through examination fee against the university’s expenditure on examinations.

However, several professors mentioned that there was no mention even of the annual grant to the PU in the budget tabled in the assembly.

Panjab university
There are many who want all the benefits, but not the character of the university to be changed. (University website)

As per the PU budget estimates 2022-23, the UGC grant and the grant from the state stand at Rs 278 crore and Rs 36.13 crore, respectively. The university annually receives maintenance grants from both the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Punjab government, usually in the 80:20 ratio. Apart from the Rs 36-crore grant to the university, the Punjab government has to give around Rs 6 crore to the colleges which makes the amount around Rs 42 crore.

PU Senate this year agreed to adopt the Punjab 6th Pay Commission for its non-teaching staff subject to the receipt of additional grant and revision of pay scales for teaching staff, taking an additional burden of Rs 300 crore.

The teachers have been demanding the Seventh Pay Commission, alongside pay parity.

Prof Navdeep Goyal, former Senator, said, “If the teachers in affiliated colleges are getting better salary and benefits, it demoralises teachers in the university. If the government wants to save the university, it will have to provide the facilities.”

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