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Mumbai varsity happenings suggest poor governance 'not limited to Balasore disaster'

Rosamma Thomas* 
After the train accident in Odisha on June 2 that killed nearly 300 and left over 1,000 injured, reports have appeared in the press of the over three lakh vacancies in the Indian Railways. There is an acute dearth of gangmen and women, the people who regularly inspect tracks and keep them in good condition, preventing accidents.
This state of affairs is not confined to the Indian Railways. At a time of massive joblessness, when the unemployment rate stands at nearly 8%, there is also simultaneously a massive build-up of vacant positions in government institutions. While the massive accident of June 2 has brought this matter into sharp focus in the Railways, in other sectors where operations do not involve risk to human life, the enormous lack of personnel is less noticed.
Mumbai University, for instance, has over 1,000 non-teaching staff on its rolls. A recent report in the "Hindustan Times" pointed out that in the last 30 years, only eight permanent positions were created in the non-teaching category staff of the university. In 2018, the Bombay High Court ordered the university to pay to its contractual staff the same salary as regular staff, if the work they performed was the same. 
Even the court, however, stopped short of seeking the regularization of the services of the contract staff. The order was not implemented, and the court recently issued contempt notice to the university. Contract staff all earn less than Rs 20,000 a month, making it hard for them to survive in an expensive city like Mumbai.
What is worse, several serious “accidents” have occurred in the functioning of the university in recent years, which have not gone entirely unnoticed – students of the Masters programmes in several disciplines are currently taking examinations, but many are left jittery as examination centres have not yet been decided; hall tickets for some courses were not available, just days ahead of the scheduled examination. 
In one instance, the time table and the hall ticket showed different names for the paper that was scheduled. The Master of Commerce (MCom) examinations are set to begin in mid-June, but the examination form filling process had not begun at the end of the first week of June. 
Besides, results of semesters one and three had not yet been declared, so students set to sit examinations for semesters two and four did not quite know if they have cleared earlier examinations and are eligible to fill forms for forthcoming examinations.
Final-year law students in the LLB course were marked absent in examinations they took in December last year, as their answer scripts could not be found.
The Mumbai University and College Teachers’ Association has been campaigning for better administration – they opposed the choice of Ravindra Kulkarni as vice-chancellor of Mumbai University, holding up his poor record of administration while serving as pro-vice chancellor. In a letter on May 18, 2023, they urged the governor of the state to desist from appointing Kulkarni as vice chancellor. 
The union said that he was responsible for using university funds to pay for high end vehicles, thus leaving students and staff high and dry. Research grants have been stopped, and memoranda of understanding with foreign universities were in name only, with little work happening. 
PhD theses were not uploaded on the university website, severely impacting the ranking of the university in the National Institutional Ranking Framework, which ranks institutions of higher education in India.
Poor governance does not impact all sectors alike; while the massive rail accident caused enormous loss of life, the poor administration of the university will cripple the intellectual life of the community. 
Epidemiologist Dr Amitav Banerjee has pointed to how, in the health sector too, the style of governance of the current dispensation may leave India hurtling into a Balasore-type health disaster.
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*Freelance journalist

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