Four years after the 135-year-old Panjab University was ranked among the top institutions of higher learning in the country, the alma-matter of a former President and two former Prime Ministers has accumulated a deficit of staggering Rs 345 crore.
With no immediate solution in sight, the institution is not able to play salaries of faculty and staff on time. Students fear a massive fee hike as the funding from state and central government 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.
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.
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 large scale 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 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 percent. It urged the MHRD, UGC and the Punjab government to fulfil their obligation to PU to bail it out of the present crisis. The issue of seeking central university status also came up.
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.
It's noted alumni include former President Shankar Dayal Sharma, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, Former PM Manmohan Singh, 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 in Punjab and 24 in the Union Territory of Chandigarh affiliated to PU, whose total student strength is around 200,000.
( with inputs from IANS)