Chandigarh, May 9, It was ranked at the top spot among India's institutions of higher learning just four years ago. It's alumni includes a former President and two former Prime Ministers, among them Manmohan Singh. But today, the 135-year-old Panjab University (PU) is staring down the barrel of a staggering deficit upwards of Rs 345 crore ($53 million) -- with no immediate solution in sight.
Salaries to faculty and staff are delayed, new projects are on hold, there is tension among students on the campus over a massive fee hike, and funding from the central and state governments is not coming.
The deficit as of April 1, the beginning of fiscal 2017-18, has climbed to Rs 346.19 crore in what is owed by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Punjab government.
The deficit has been increasing steadily. It was Rs 212.26 crore in 2014-15, Rs 221.84 crore in 2015-16 and Rs 217.73 crore in 2016-17. The Centre later released grants of Rs 176 crore, Rs 176 crore and Rs 197.73 crore in these years but PU continued to face a cumulative deficit of Rs 102.07 crore.
Over and above this, the university anticipates expenditure of Rs 515.45 crore against likely income of Rs 271.33 crore, leaving a gap of Rs 244.12 which it has sought from MHRD and the UGC.
There has been no assuring response so far, resulting in salaries and other payments being delayed.
The matter is even under the consideration of the Supreme Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The apex court had recently directed the UGC and the MHRD to release an interim grant to PU, its Registrar, G.S. Sandhu, said.
The UGC told the high court last week that it is releasing a grant of Rs 20 crore.
PU Vice Chancellor Arun Kumar Grover has, in recent months, met senior officers of the UGC and representatives of the MHRD.
Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal has also assured help, through a Rs 20 crore grant, to the beleaguered university.
PU, which was ranked No.1 among all academic institutions of higher learning in the country by the Times Higher Education World Rankings 2013-14, is also listed in the UGC's (UGC) Centre of Excellence category.
Established in 1882 in Lahore, now in Pakistan, PU was re-located to its present sprawling campus in Chandigarh's Sector 14 and 25 in 1956 after the country's partition in August 1947. It is one of the country's oldest universities.
Its noted alumni include former President Shankar Dayal Sharma, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, Nobel laureate Hargobind Khorana, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the country's first woman IPS officer, Kiran Bedi, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, actor Anupam Kher, late singer Jagjit Singh, late comedian-actor Jaspal Bhatti, Jnanpith award winner and Sanskrit scholar Satya Vrat Shastri, Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and former Union ministers, Kapil Sibal, Selja and Pawan Kumar Bansal.
There are 169 colleges across Punjab and 24 in the Union Territory of Chandigarh affiliated to PU, whose total student strength is around 200,000.
PU is facing the present situation due to its unique legal status as an "Interstate Body Corporate" under the Punjab Reorganisation Act. As such, it is neither a central university nor a state university.
It was funded by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), through the Chandigarh Administration and the Punjab government in the ratio 60:40. The arrangement worked fine till 2000-2001.
Thereafter, the Punjab government started reneging on its commitment, citing lack of funds.
In 2009, the UPA moved a proposal to convert PU into a central university. After initially agreeing, then Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal backed out leaving the varsity in its position of being neither a central nor a state institution.
In 2013, the UPA government at the Centre changed the funding pattern from the MHA to the MHRD and UGC.
Recently, the Vice Chancellor informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that "unless adequate funds were received, the university would face a serious problem of sustaining itself".
With the MHRD and UGC telling the university to generate more funds through a fee hike, PU authorities recently did so for various courses -- in certain cases, the hike being nearly 1,100 per cent.
This led to an immediate reaction from the student community and, for the first time in decades, PU witnessed largescale violence as students and the police clashed on the campus last month. Many students were even booked for sedition but the charges were dropped.
The Vice Chancellor had called a meeting of the PU Senate, the the university's highest decision-making body, on Sunday (May 7) to discuss the financial crisis and the fee hike issues. The senate resolved to cap the fee hike at 10 per cent. It urged the MHRD, UGC and the Punjab government to fulfill their obligation to PU to bail it out of the present crisis. The issue of seeking central university status also came up.