Published: 23rd February 2019
JNU fund cut row: RTI reveals 72 per cent budget slash in top research facility
An RTI filed by the JNUSU President N Sai Balaji shows that the AIRF budget is slashed by Rs 25 Lakh. Researchers say that this is greatly affecting the quality of research
Looks like the ghosts of budget cut aren't going to leave the Jawaharlal Nehru University anytime soon. After the alleged slashing of the library budget by 80 per cent, the administration has now cut funds for the university's Advanced Instrumentation Research Facility (AIRF) by 72 per cent.
An RTI filed by N Sai Balaji, the JNU Students' Union President, reveals that the maintenance budget for the AIRF, which is considered to be one of the best interdisciplinary research facilities in the country, has been reduced by Rs 25 lakhs - from Rs 35 Lakh in 2016-17 to Rs 10 Lakh in 2017-18.
A state-of-the-art facility houses more than 25 cutting-edge instruments and supporting facilities. Apart from the researchers in the universities, the facilities are utilised by academic research institutes, universities, and private industries across the nation. But the sudden reduction in funds has been a major setback to the quality of equipment here. "The fund cut is affecting the quality of research very badly," says a JNU professor who does not wish to be named. "Previously, the five-year plans came with a lump sum allotment for infrastructural development and maintenance. But right now, the annual budget has no scope for new infrastructure," he says.
For someone who's been researching in the AIRF since the time of its inception, he observes that many sought after instruments in the facility are either not working or are in a pathetic state. This includes the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), the X-Ray Generator and the Mass Spectrometer. At the same time, he also says that the users pay a hefty sum to the facility every month to use these instruments. "Even the funds generated by the AIRF doesn't come back here. It goes directly to the university's finance department," he adds. Since AIRF is the largest research facility in North India, it is also used by a lot of researchers who aren't students or faculty in the JNU. The tariff varies for JNU and non-JNU users.
"The administration is also sacking the temporary staff in the AIRF stating the fund cut. This is also a major problem here right now," says Yatendra Pratap, a researcher from JNU. Balaji says that this was the reason why he filed the RTI. "Some students were telling me that the AIRF staff aren't getting the salary on time. It is a major revenue generator for the university. The facility earns a lot of money from researchers and students who are not from JNU. But the admin hasn't given the details to me yet," he says.
"The Vice-Chancellor can't even deny the fund cut now. We have all the documentary proof. He is a Vice 'Cutter', not a Vice-Chancellor," he adds. While the RTI also sought the details of the funds generated by the facility, the reply said that all the money is remitted in the university account. Repeated emails and calls to the AIRF director Dinesh Mohan and the VC Dr Jagadesh Kumar Mamidala did not yield any response.