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₹1.5 Crore Spent On ‘Renovation’, ₹26 Lakh On A ‘Visit’: Why Jamia’s VC Is Facing The Heat

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By Towfeeq Wani:

When the President of India appointed Prof. Talat Ahmed as the Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia in April 2014, it came as a surprise to everyone associated or well acquainted with the recent history of Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI), for more than one reason.

Even though Talat Ahmed’s name was never mentioned among the ones that were doing rounds after Najeeb Jung was appointed the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi although, his tenure at Kashmir University was officially extended for three years in February 2014, it was widely hailed and welcomed in academic circles and JMI itself.

The fact that it isn’t everyday that an academician is appointed as the Vice Chancellor of JMI or Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was more surprising than anything else in the move. Unlike other central universities of the country, these two institutions have mostly seen non-academicians as their heads since 1980. From the time JMI became a Central University in 1988, it has had six VCs, of whom three, belonged to either the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) or the Army, with Lt. Gen (Retd) M.A. Zaki belonging to the latter and Mr. Shahid Mahdi and Mr. Najeeb Jung belonging to the former. It isn’t, thus, surprising that the teachers of JMI were pressing for an academician to lead them.

talat ahmad
Prof. Talat Ahmed. Shared on Facebook by Jamia Journal.

This isn’t the whole picture though. The circumstances under which Mr. Talat took over the post were much more complicated. The rift between the teachers and the previous VC, which was Mr. Jung, can be understood by the letter that the then-President of Jamia Teachers’ Association, Professor M. S. Bhat wrote to Pranab Mukherjee on the issue of conferring an honorary degree on Mr. Jung. The degree was being conferred on him after he had vacated the office of the Vice Chancellor on being appointed Lt. Governor.

The Association president wrote , “In our opinion, conferring this degree on a person who has not made any exceptional contribution to public or academic life will lower the prestige of the honorary degree. Moreover, awarding it to a person who has just relinquished the office of Vice Chancellor is bound to breed suspicion in the eyes of the public.”

In August 2015, I reported here that the Jamia Students Union was last banned in 2006, and Mr. Najeeb Jung not only upheld that, but also significantly curtailed other rights of the students. Even when any means of communication between students and the administration were absent apart from the undemocratically elected Subject Associations, the elected Teachers’ Association openly expressed their mistrust by accusing him of “just relinquishing” the office of Vice Chancellor and having made no “exceptional contribution to academic life”.

In this scenario, the appointment of a renowned Earth scientist who has had the exceptional distinction of being a Fellow of all the science academies of the country and had previously served as a Vice Chancellor and a professor of Geology was more than just welcomed. Many saw it as the dawn of a new era for the institution. The identification parade at the university gates was eased, the promise of holding an election of the students’ union was made and many new courses were introduced. The trenches were being filled and bridges were being built. At least, that was the idea.

However, the worries of the new VC have just begun.

In March 2015, NAAC gave JMI an ‘A’ grade after a team from the same, visited the varsity from February 17-22, 2015. Many months later, an RTI query revealed that the university spent over Rs 26 lakh arranging a ‘regal treatment’ for this team which included a lunch, the advance of which alone was Rs 1.75 lakh, and 16 rooms (Rs 7,000 for a night) and a suite (Rs 14,000) booked at a top hotel in the city. Rs 1.93 lakh was also spent on over 80 cars hired for the team members.

Even though the administration maintained that the money was not spent to ‘influence’ the team and that the hotels were booked because the university guest house was being renovated at that time, questions about the necessity of such a huge expenditure were raised from every corner.

Ex-VC Najeeb Jung. Source: Jasjeet Plaha/Getty
Ex-VC Najeeb Jung. Source: Jasjeet Plaha/Getty

Another RTI in January 2016 revealed that the JMI administration had allocated a whopping Rs 1.5 crore for renovation of the Vice Chancellor’s office even when Rs 4.8 lakh was spent on the office’s renovation during the previous VC’s tenure and Rs 54.8 lakh was spent on refurbishing during the tenure of Mushir-ul-Hassan before that, prompting activists to seek the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) intervention in the issue.

In another, somehow linked, incident, a JMI professor who wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee, alleging financial and administrative irregularities in the university and opposed a decision to have 5 percent reservation for wards of employees, was suspended for 90 days in February 2016 on charges of ‘misconduct’.

In his complaint filed with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) in August 2014 and July 2015, the professor had mentioned the alleged abolition of the SC/ST quota in faculty and staff employment, the ‘arbitrary’ introduction of a supernumerary quota in admissions for the wards of university staff and the absence of a regular registrar and finance officer in the university, among other issues.

In April this year, the Delhi High Court ordered the UGC to look into the complaints of the professor mentioned above, after which the concerned Ministry sought a response from university Vice Chancellor, Mr. Talat Ahmad, on allegations of administrative irregularities. The same court, in its judgment on February 29, had directed the HRD Ministry, UGC and JMI to forward complaints and representation sent by the professor, along with their comments and recommendations, to the President.
Accordingly, the ministry sought Ahmad’s response, which was then forwarded to the UGC for comments.

At this point of time, Professor Ahmad told Indian Express, “The professor who has made the allegations was suspended two months ago and obviously has an axe to grind.”

Summing up all the issues, the HRD Ministry had sought the President’s approval to launch a ‘Visitorial Inquiry’ and the government has recommended that UGC conduct a probe into at least five charges, including wasteful expenditure on the NAAC visit, arbitrary introduction of a supernumerary quota in admissions for wards of university staff and misuse of government accommodation.

Mr. Talat will become the fifth Central University Vice Chancellor to come under the NDA government’s scanner since it took charge in 2014, if President Mukherjee, who is also the Visitor of all central universities, allows a probe into the matter.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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