Visva-Bharati isn’t a start-up or a company whose survival depends on its revenues; it’s a gigantic educational institution set up by Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 and whose Chancellor is the Prime Minister himself, but it is yet to pay salaries for June even though it is already mid-July.
On July 6, nearly a week after salaries were to have been credited, the university issued a circular that said: “As soon as the Central Administrative Building is sanitised, the normal activities including the release of salary shall immediately be undertaken.”
But as of the afternoon of July 15, salaries were yet to be credited, even though there is talk of the payment being made by the end of the day. “This is unprecedented,” said a professor, requesting not to be named. “People are angry that salaries are being delayed in a difficult time like this.”
When The Hindu called up university PRO Anirban Sircar — the only official authorised to speak to the media — he first said he did not wish to comment on the matter. Minutes later he called back to say that he had spoken to the Vice-Chancellor and that there were chances that the salaries would be credited by Wednesday. He attributed the delay to the fact that a staff had displayed COVID-19 like symptoms following which the administrative office had been shut down for 14 days, but added that the employee had tested negative.
Many teachers were quick to point out that if an employee had indeed shown symptoms of COVID-19, the university should have put out a circular and advised those who had come in contact with him to quarantine themselves. “But there was no such notice. The circular of July 6 merely mentions sanitisation; it doesn’t talk about COVID-19 or about the employee showing symptoms. This lack of communication puts people at risk,” said a long-serving professor.
Even if salaries are disbursed by Wednesday, the delay will be unprecedented in the history of the university — the only Central university in West Bengal and the only to have the Prime Minister as its Chancellor. In February too, it had issued a circular saying that salaries for that month could be delayed due to paucity of funds, prompting the HRD ministry to seek an explanation why such a circular was issued in spite of its being assured of release of funds.
Visva-Bharati has been in the news more often for the wrong reasons ever since Bidyut Chakarabarty took charge as the Vice-Chancellor in late 2018. On Wednesday, the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association — a teachers’ body — wrote to the President of India, heaping a host of allegations against the Vice-Chancellor, which included making teachers report for work in spite of the COVID-19 situation and withholding of the salaries.