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'Our VC runs the varsity like a kitchen cabinet'

Neeraj Hatekar, a professor of Econometrics at the Economics department of the University of Mumbai, has been in the eye of the storm since January 4, when he held a press conference as convener of the Joint Action Committee for Improvement of Higher Education. He took on the varsity's management at the press meet, alleging that the vice-chancellor had violated many norms and was not qualified for his post. Close on the heels of the expose, he was suspended by the varsity. He spoke to Kranti Vibhute to clarify his stand against the establishment

When did you join the Joint Action Committee for Improvement of Higher Education (JACIHE) and why?
Our organisation (JACIHE) has been working for issues in higher education in Maharashtra since 1993. We have taken up several issues, one of which is the matter of false journals. UGC has made the Academic Performance Indicator (API) important for promotion.

Dr Neeraj Hatekar is a professor of Econometrics at the Economics department of Mumbai University. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Dr Neeraj Hatekar is a professor of Econometrics at the Economics department of Mumbai University. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

These API points are obtained by writing in research journals. We carried out a large campaign against organisations that provide this kind of fake research journals after being paid. It was even splashed across newspapers sometime back. This organisation was taking money from the government as well as from the people.

We exposed illegal post-graduate teachers in the board of studies and we took that matter to the high court and the court agreed with us. It asked the chancellor to make an enquiry and it was done. The information provided to the chancellor by the university, however, was incomplete.

We had raised questions about illegal members and the university only gave information on three. The three were later disqualified, but we have filed an affidavit against the other 10. We have taken up many such issues.

A press conference you were present at led to your suspension. What was that about? Were you only present in that press conference?
We held a press conference on December 12 about various issues in Mumbai University and the qualifications of the vice-chancellor (VC). We said that the standard of the varsity is declining fast. The VC has not submitted his documents and has also violated the Maharashtra University Act repeatedly.

He should step down from his post. Our organisation has a lot of information and documents obtained through the Right to Information Act. Some are straight from the comptroller and auditor general’s (CAG) report, some are from the joint director of higher education and some from teachers’ organisations. Most teachers are raising the issue of credit-based system again and again. They believe that it is not working for them or their students.

Why did the University of Mumbai send you a suspension letter?
Do I deserve a termination for raising the issues that teachers and students have brought to us?

When you talk about mismanagement in the university and administration, what exactly do you mean?
We were suspicious that the university is not receiving the funds that are owed from the joint director of higher education, but has been giving us money from other sources. Teachers wrote to the university but did not get any response. Then, we read reports that the university was dipping into its own funds.

In the reports, the pro-vice-chancellor agreed that the government is not paying the university because it has not completed some technicalities. The joint director of higher education had also claimed that the money was not released because of these technicalities. In another instance of mismanagement, the CAG’s report says that the university is not recovering affiliation fees from colleges. So we have raised that issue as well.

Do you or your organisation feel that VC Rajan Welukar is not qualified to hold that post in the University? If so, why?
Yes. The VC is not qualified and we have all the documents that prove that he is not eligible. We do believe collectively that Welukar does not have the academic leadership to take this university to great heights. So we will also keep on fighting for his sacking.

You have filed a petition in the high court challenging your suspension order from the University of Mumbai. Do you think that the suspension is illegal?
When the press conference took place on January 4, I received the suspension order from the VC, stating that members of the management council had taken serious note of the misinformation to the media and had recommended strict disciplinary action against me. They suspended me on charges of misconduct, moral turpitude, and conduct unbecoming of a teacher.

I have challenged their order. In the first place, the VC cannot suspend me. It is the management council that can do so, for which the council has to first pass a resolution saying that they suspend me. There is no such resolution passed by the management council. The resolution that was passed was for disciplinary action and not suspension. Moreover, there is a specific format in which the order has to be issued why the resolution has been signed by the registrar and the VC.

Our university statute says that the employee cannot be suspended pending enquiry, unless there is prima facie evidence for termination. How can they terminate me when I have not violated any code of conduct, by discriminating against students or by refusing to do university work? There is no evidence and the charges against me are completely false. These things are being done maliciously. Our VC runs the University like a Kitchen Cabinet. He has some of these close aides who will parrot whatever he says. They began saying to the VC that he should suspend Hatekar.

Some council members, such as Madhu Paranjpe, who is a member of the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU) opposed it, saying that I should be asked for an explanation first. This was not done. If they had asked, then a simple show-cause notice would have exposed all the irregularities such as the fact that the VC is not qualified. It would have been counterproductive for them. This is why I challenged the order in the high court.

Students of Mumbai University, and not just those from the economics department, have supported you.
I have only a small cause, but the reason large numbers of students are coming out is because they are very unhappy with the system. They are not getting what they want. There is no academic support; there is no quality.

We hear that the Aam Aadmi Party has shown support for you the issue is getting politicised. What is your reaction to this?
This is an issue that affects wider society, and if any political party sees this as a valid agenda then they have all the right in the world to agitate. We have not handed our agenda over to any political party or called on any party to fight for us. But if they take up this issue on their own and fight, they have every right to do so in a democratic world.

When an academic or professor gets his marching orders for commenting on and criticising what he thinks is mismanagement in the university, what does it say for the world’s largest democracy?
See, the soul and heart of the university should be dissent. Dissent, dialogue and discussion has to be the spirit of the university. Unfortunately, it is being run by autocratic people who want to run it as a ‘pocket bharo’ venture with the help of a group of subservient, but equally autocratic people. Because of this, no one can speak up.

What is your future course of action?
I have gone to the court of law and filed a petition. The writ petition will take its own legal course. But as an organisation, JAC will continue to do what it is meant to do improve the standard of higher education in Maharashtra. We will keep raising our voice and fighting for issues.

What is your message to the teaching fraternity?
You have to fight to change the system. If you are with them, then you have to make many compromises.

Are there enough well-qualified PhD guides in the university?
No. The university has diluted the rule for PhD guides. The issue of quality of guides needs to be looked into.

About Professor Neeraj Hatekar
Hatekar came to Mumbai University to complete a Bachelor of Arts. He completed his master’s, obtained a PhD after that in 1993, and went on to become a research assistant. He has been associated with the university for 27 years.

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