The academic expenses over the last three financial years in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University has seen a substantial decrease, while legal and security costs have increased in the same period, the Hindustan Times reported on Monday.

Jawaharlal Nehru University has been embroiled in a controversy since 2016, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party questioning the morality of the students and their education. Protests against the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the attack on the university students during the protests in January against the Citizenship Amendment Act has become a frequent topic of debate.

Academic expenses, which includes important components like spending on seminars, workshops, journals, teaching aids and research activities, have been affected due to the reduced costs. Members of JNU’s executive council, which is the top decision making body, raised the matter after the annual financial report for 2019-’20 was presented before the council on Monday.

The financial reports of the last three years, accessed by the Hindustan Times, show that annual academic expenses decreased by 26.38% from Rs 38.36 crore in 2017-’18 to Rs 28.24 crore in 2018-’19. It further went down by another 30% to Rs 19.74 crore in 2019-’20.

Meanwhile, an additional fund of Rs 30 lakh was approved for legal expenses this year in the executive council meeting held on September 7. This is addition to the already sanctioned budget of Rs 9 lakh. The cost for the same was Rs 2.72 lakh in 2017-’18 and Rs 17.7 lakh in 2018-’19.

Security spending increased from Rs 17.37 crore in 2017-’18 to Rs 18.54 crore in 2018-’19. The budget was Rs 15.34 crore for 2019-’20.

JNU Registrar Pramod Kumar said the reduction in academic expenses has not affected their performance, confirming that the matter was discussed on Monday. “The university has been constantly on the top of all national rankings,” he added.

“The administration has in fact regularised the expenditure. We are encouraging our own faculty to conduct seminars and workshops instead of inviting people from outside. We are also encouraging our faculty members to get financiers for their research activities and we are getting it in a significant way. Besides, the Covid-19 lockdown has also affected our expenses in 2019-’20 since we could not organise any seminar and workshop after March.”  

— JNU Registrar Pramod Kumar

Kumar justified the rise in legal and security costs, saying cases filed against the administration of the university by students and teachers have increased. “It’s not us who have moved the court,” he added.

An unidentified member told Hindustan Times that the reduced academic budget has been consistently questioned by some council members. “At the same time, the cost incurred on legal and security expenses have witnessed a drastic increase during these years,” the member added. “The centres have been witnessing major issues in organising seminars and workshops for students since we do not get enough funds for them. We are not being able to invite speakers due to the issue. The expenses on seminars and workshops have decreased to Rs 45 lakh in 2019-’20 from Rs 1.48 crore in 2018-’19.”

Surajit Mazumdar, secretary of JNU Teachers’ Association or JNUTA said the reduced academic costs have implications. “These are the disruptive effects on academic activities by cutbacks on important expenditure lab material, fieldwork, journals, conferences and seminars, etc,” Mazumdar said.

“This is also initiating a long-term process of erosion of academic standards and establishment of a new normal where the best is no longer expected. The irony is that increased expenditure on things like security has produced the opposite of a more secure campus.”  

— Surajit Mazumdar

JNU Students’ Union President Aishe Ghosh told the newspaper that students have been struggling due to the cut back in expenses. “I myself have not received my fellowship for past one year,” she added. “Similarly, the expenses on work travel of teachers have been reduced drastically over the years.”

Kumar maintained that JNU is providing all fellowships and stipends to students. Figures, on the contrary, show that students’ fellowships/stipends was reduced by at least 84% in 2018-’19 to Rs 2.57 crore from Rs 18.22 crore in 2017-’18. It was cut down to Rs 2.39 crore in 2019-’20.

Another unidentified associate professor also countered Kumar’s comments and questioned how JNU, which follows an April to March financial year, can include seminars or workshops conducted after March in the annual report of 2019-’20. “There is no question of the annual account of 2019-’20 being affected by the imposition of lockdown,” the professor said.