The Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai issued letters to at least 35 employees on Friday informing them that their contracts would not be renewed after March 31, after the University Grants Commission after several months of delay failed to clarify whether it would continue to fund these centres after the end of this financial year.

The letters affect 18 faculty and around 17 research and administrative staff at the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies and the Nodal Centre of Excellence for Human Rights Education.

The letters, of which has a copy, state:

“The scheme is officially ending on 31st March, 2017 and extension of the project has not been received from UGC as on date. This is to inform you that since the scheme ends on 31st March, 2017, your last working day in the said post at this institute will be 31st March, 2017.”

The three centres were set up with funds allotted by the Planning Commission to the University Grants Commission during the 11th Five-Year Plan. The grants for the centres were to be renewed on the basis of their performance, to be assessed on a Plan-to-Plan basis.

All three centres at TISS were renewed for the 12th Five-Year Plan, the period for which ends on March 31. However, there will be no 13th Plan, now that the Planning Commission has been replaced by the Niti Ayog, which is to produce a 15-year Vision Document instead.

S Parasuraman, director of TISS, said that he had written several times to the government asking it to clarify whether the centres were to continue after the end of this financial year, but had not received a clear reply.

“These are important teaching and research programmes for the institute, but the UGC has not released funds for them for the last two years,” Parasuraman said. “I will still continue to ask the government to continue the programmes, but it is my responsibility to inform the people in these centres that this is the situation as of today.”

Parasuraman said that he was going to Delhi for three days and would request an appointment with the UGC for more clarity.

UGC is silent

At the heart of this confusion is the studied silence from the UGC despite several attempts of universities to clarify whether courses and centres it funded would continue to receive financial support.

This report comes days after another controversy at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, when The Telegraph reported on March 18 that faculty at the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion there said that they had received a letter from the UGC saying that their centre would no longer be funded.

The Centre for Study of Social Exclusion was established in at least 32 universities to study discrimination and exclusion or inclusion based on caste, ethnicity or religion and to formulate policies to protect the rights of these groups.

The UGC issued a clarification the next day stating that that letter was a forgery and had been sent from Mumbai, where the UGC does not have an office. The centres, the release said, and were to be continued provided they had “satisfactory progress in the areas of their focus”. On this basis, the UGC said it would extend all these centres from April 1, 2017.

Despite this assertion, it has not yet written to TISS giving official confirmation of this, leading to the administration’s decision to inform its employees of its present situation. There is no clarity on the fate of employees at the other two centres either.

When contacted UGC chairman Ved Prakash on Sunday evening, he said he was in a meeting and was unable to answer questions.

TISS is particularly strongly affected by the UGC’s silence because it was one of the few universities to fill all the positions allotted to these centres, according to the Parasuraman.

“Many universities appointed only one or two persons in these centres, knowing that the government releases money in an intermittent way so they can afford to close down their teaching programmes in case of delay,” Parasuraman said. “My position is more complicated because we appointed people to all positions, thinking one day we will get that money back.”

Bracing for it

Given that these were contract positions and that the UGC had not released funds for these centres since the new central government came in, the faculty buzz for months has been about whether these positions would be continued.

“This was not a surprise for me because this is the political administration in the country,” said one of the faculty members who received this letter, who asked not to be identified. “I was prepared because this is a contract position.”

The faculty member said that the affected people were speaking to the teachers’ association and would go to the office to see whether anything could be done.

“There are a lot of other things at stake here,” the faculty member said. “We have students to guide, we are conducting evaluation. It is a shame that they served us only a week’s notice, but I have responsibilities at the end of the day, and I will take care of them.”

Another faculty member from the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, said that the institute had written to the UGC in December but received a reply that repeated the text of an earlier letter from 2011, saying that the centre would be continued on a Plan-to-Plan basis.

“According to these contracts, faculty should get one month’s notice before termination,” he said. “But this is not a termination. Here, the problem is that it was already known to all the centres that the contracts will change at the end of March.”

He added, “Had there not been a media controversy in JNU, the UGC would never have issued even a press release. But it still has not sent us a letter. Without a clear yes or no, it is not possible for the institute to continue these contracts.”