Published: 03rd June 2019
AUD asks underprivileged student to repay 'excess' welfare money of Rs 4800 or risk getting degree blocked
The Student Services centre claimed they had given her 'extra money' through a technical glitch in their system because of which they were asking her to return it.
A student of Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) has written an open letter to the administration about being forced to return the money she received as part of the Student Welfare Fund (SWF). In the letter, the student, Bharti says that the authorities are threatening to not give her the hostel mess waiver for this semester which would mean that she would not get a 'no-dues' certificate — without which, she cannot get her degree.
Bharti, who is studying BA Sociology, said she has been availing the SWF (usually around Rs 4000-5000) every semester and had approached the Student Services Office to do the same for her final semester. She says she was initially refused a waiver but after repeatedly visiting the Student Services Office, her application was approved. But when she went to attend the interview to acquire the funds, she was told to 'return funds' she had received earlier.
According to the AUD website, the University has created a Student Welfare Fund with the objective of making financial assistance available for meeting the welfare needs of students in need, such as emergent medical assistance, purchase of books and study material and any other comparable needs of students.
Where will I get the money?
Stating that she comes from a financially poor background from Haryana, she said her parents can't afford her living in Delhi — let alone pay back a sum of money. Despite being named after a revolutionary like Ambedkar, it is disheartening to hear that the campus does not have an SC/ST cell or an equal opportunities cell or any other sort of grievance redressal cell. "There is no provision/mechanism to complaint about one’s grievances in the university. We are often told to go to SS. But what if the complaint is against SS?" she asks.
The experience has all but broken her, "I have been continuously tortured and mentally harassed during this semester, first for the mess fee waiver and now by putting an ‘ethical’ responsibility on me. I would like to go from this university in peace and with dignity. This ‘money’ issue is putting me in a complex situation in front of my friends," she wrote in the letter.
"There is a proper mechanism to select students through interviews, where we are asked to produce bills. There is a proper allocation for categories like travel, photocopying, canteen under the SWF. After that, the file goes to SS and only then do we get our money in our account," she said, adding that she doesn't think it is a technical error at all.
Anatomy of harassment
Bharti writes, "On Saturday, April, 20,2019, there was a round of interviews for candidates who applied (for) SWF. I attended the meeting. The interview was taken by Hemlata ma’am (hostel warden) and Rinju ma’am (sociology course coordinator). I was told in the beginning that they would talk to me in the last."
When her turn came, the two women asked her how she had managed to receive 'so much' money and was directed to return one semester's money — that amounted to Rs 4800. "She told me that there had been a technical glitch on the part of the university, which is why I needed to return the money," Bharti said. Worried by the sudden demand, she asked the teachers for some time to figure things out, "If it was a technical glitch then why was I being told to return the money so suddenly?" But the teachers allegedly forced her to accept that she would pay the money back by signing a piece of paper to that effect.
Threats and recrimination
"I asked again for some time to think about the situation but they said that this is an ‘ethical’ issue and that I have to sign. I asked her for a day’s time again, but she refused on the grounds that this issue would only be tackled in a meeting and she would not meet me individually," Bharti said. The student said she felt pressurised to sign on the paper also because the grading on some of her assignments was still pending and one of them was her teacher in the final semester. She said her fears did come true when she was actually threatened by the teachers, "I was threatened by both of them that if I do not pay back this money, then my hostel mess fee waiver would be blocked and my degree might get blocked, I would not get no dues form."
One of her friends also told her that he was told by a staff member of the SS that he got less funds in the previous semester because the money had gone to Bharti, "This is utter nonsense on the part of SS because when the fifth semester SWF money was released, they had refused to pay my mess fee waiver. Also, this is a tactic to isolate me from my batchmates."
She says in her letter that she has chosen to write the letter now since she had given it a lot of thought and feels that it is unfair for the administration to ask her to pay the money back, when it wasn't her mistake at all. She also demanded to know why if there was indeed a technical glitch, then why she was not informed about it in an official letter, "I could not even read the paper that I was asked to sign."
According to Bharti's letter, the students are granted the funds only after a thorough check. "There is a proper mechanism to select students through interviews, where we are asked to produce bills. There is a proper allocation for categories like travel, photocopying, canteen under the SWF. After that, the file goes to SS and only then do we get our money in our account," she said, adding that she doesn't think it is a technical error at all.
Something's not right
She also wondered why there had been a technical problem at the same time that she had approached them for a fee waiver. "Earlier, they refused blatantly to my face that they could not provide a mess fee waiver, but later after many rounds to their office, they agreed. Now they have come up with this issue. If this was the agenda of the meeting then I should have been informed about it earlier, not so suddenly. Not when I went there for the SWF meeting," she writes.
When we got in touch with Bharti about the administration's response to the letter, she said they had postponed handling the matter till the end of the semester. "They said they are busy with exams and they have a lot of other work, so they would respond to the issue at the end of the semester," she told us. But it's been a few days since the exams for over but no one has reached out to her yet. "I fear that they may bring it up when I come to get my degree or come for any of my other certificates," she said.