Meeting social obligations

Print edition : May 17, 2013

THE crisp two-page Statement of Objects and Reasons explaining the rationale behind the introduction of The Annamalai University Bill, 2013, on April 15 in the Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly declares: “It is the social obligation of the [Tamil Nadu] government to protect the livelihood of the teaching staff of the [Annamalai] University and to ensure the imparting of higher education to the rural students in and around Annamalai Nagar, [Chidambaram].” The Bill seeks to “repeal and re-enact” the existing law governing the institution and in doing so snaps the eight-decade-long ties between the university and the heirs of its founder, Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar.

In 1928, Annamalai Chettiar handed over colleges of higher education to the then “local” government [Madras Presidency] with all properties attached thereto and also a sum of Rs.20 lakh for the purpose of “establishing and maintaining teaching and residential university wherein he and his heirs shall be entitled to certain powers and privileges”.

Explaining the reasons for its interference in the affairs of a higher education institution of unitary status, the government points out that the provisions of the Annamalai University Act, 1928 (Tamil Nadu Act 1 of 1929), are “not similar to the provisions of other University Acts in the State”.

“The peculiar feature of the Act, which vests vast powers and privileges on the founder [here, the heirs of Annamalai Chettiar] being the Pro-Chancellor, a honorary position, had led to maladministration of the University,” it states. “The past experience indicates that the powers and privileges conferred on the founder have been grossly abused.”

The government also has expressed surprise that the university was administered by a Vice-Chancellor recommended by the founder, a private individual, who derives the right through inheritance. “Such privilege is incompatible with an egalitarian social order and also works against the spirit of good governance [of the university],” the statement points out.

In spite of the government releasing block grants running to several crores of rupees every year, the university has landed in an “unprecedented financial crisis” primarily because of the appointment of excess staff, transfer of funds, investments in other areas and non-adherence to statutory obligations.

The government justifies its move to take over the university’s administration by stating that it has to safeguard the welfare of the students and allay the apprehensions of the staff, who had been on strike since November 2012, fearing retrenchment and reduction in emoluments.

Earlier, following the controversy, the government constituted a Special Local Fund Auditing team under Section 28 of The Annamalai University Act, 1928, to assess the financial and other irregularities. A high-level committee to analyse the audit report of the team and to suggest suitable recommendations was also formed.

It also appointed Shiv Das Meena, a senior Indian Administrative Service officer, as administrator to “exercise the powers and discharge the functions of the Vice-Chancellor.” The Vice-Chancellor, appointed under the 1928 Act, ceased to be the Vice-Chancellor. The Syndicate and academic councils will be reconstituted in accordance with the provisions of the new Act. However, everyone, excluding the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar, will continue to hold their offices.

The Act will ensure the selection of a new Vice-Chancellor from a panel of three names to be recommended by a Search Committee comprising nominees by the Chancellor (Governor), the government and the Syndicate.

R. Ilangovan