‘Human crisis’ in Santiniketan as Visva-Bharati yet to pay salaries

While quick to issue notices disciplining staff in recent times, the university has not put out any circular explaining the delay

Santiniketan, whose economy largely depends on the Visva-Bharati University, is witnessing, according to teachers, a “human crisis”, with the university yet to pay its staff for the month of June.

Salaries in Visva-Bharati are always paid on the last day of every month, but the salaries for June were yet to be released until the evening of July 10. What is surprising is that the university, which in recent times has always been quick to issue notices when it comes to disciplining staff, has not put out any circular explaining why the salaries were being delayed. Its Public Relations Officer, the only official there authorised to speak to the media, did not respond to calls for comment.

“This is an unprecedented situation. A human crisis is building up in Santiniketan, considering its economy depends on Visva-Bharati. People have EMIs and rents to pay. Think of the elderly pensioners — how will they survive, that too in these difficult times?” said a professor who has spent 25 years at the university.

So unpleasant is the situation now that an organisation called Association for Protection of Democratic Rights on Saturday filed an FIR at the Santiniketan Police Station against the non-payment of salaries. Local media is pointing out how retired lower-rung employees are left with no money and are even unable to buy medicines.

Many in the campus see the delay as a fallout of the running feud between Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty and the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association (VBUFA), which has been openly critical of the V-C. The union has, from time to time, written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the Chancellor of the university, bringing to his attention the alleged high-handed functioning of the V-C, and earlier this week had also raised the issue of non-payment of salaries.

According to a union member, most employees in Visva-Bharati got less salary for the month of May without explanation and when a professor sought to know the reason during an online faculty meeting, he was asked by the V-C to take charge of salary disbursement. A verbal showdown between the two followed and the delay in the salary was a result of that spat, the union member said, adding that the V-C, during another meeting of faculty members held during the pandemic, had openly ridiculed teachers “for earning fat salaries while sitting at home”.

This is not the first time that salaries have been delayed during Prof. Chakrabarty’s tenure. Last year, too, the disbursement was delayed during the months of February, June and July. The reason given was lack of funds but the Education Ministry insisted that there was no such paucity and had pulled up the authorities. But this is the longest the employees have remained unpaid.

Prof. Chakrabarty took charge in November 2018, not long before the 1921-founded university was to celebrate its centenary, but his tenure continues to be marked with a string of unpleasant events, including frequent serving of charge-sheets and notices on teachers, threatening them with disciplinary action.

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