Social exclusion study centres in jeopardy, thanks to UGC policy change
The future of centres for the study of social exclusion in certain Indian universities is in jeopardy. Many of them have not been receiving funding for the past few months.
Thirteen of these centres were set up in 2006, at the end of the 10th Five Year Plan. Subsequently, under the 12th Five Year Plan in 2012, the number of centres increased to 35. These centres had been functioning under the University Grants Commission's (UGC) five-year schemes.
However, after the end of the last Five Year Plan in March 2017, the UGC adopted a yearly funding scheme, and has since stopping funding most of these centres altogether.
A top official of the Jamia Millia Islamia's Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy spoke to Catch on the condition of anonymity, saying the centre is in total limbo, since neither the university nor the UGC has been funding it for the past four months.
“A review was conducted by the UGC last year to evaluate the functioning of centres across the country before the end of its five-year scheme. But we have not been informed about the results of the review. No formal notice has been provided by the UGC as to why the funding has been stopped,” the official said.
A notice from the Union Finance Ministry in May ordered the UGC to once again review the schemes being run in the centres, and extended the functioning of these centres only till 30 September. The UGC will have to recommend whether the centres should remain in operation or be disbanded before the deadline of 30 September.
However, a source within UGC told Catch: “The universities had to give an undertaking that in the event that the UGC funding was not available, the institutes will have to finance the functioning of the centres on their own. It was based on this undertaking that the initial release of funds happened. Since the schemes used to function on a five-year basis, the UGC is not entitled to fund the centres post the completion of those five years. The universities must finance the centres when UGC funding is not available. Since the discontinuation of five-year schemes, UGC had decided on a yearly scheme instead”
Annual review preposterous
However, not all universities are up for this.
In universities like the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, the Mahatma Gandhi University in Tamil Nadu and Manipur University, salaries have not been paid to staff for up to six months.
An official at JNU's Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion told Catch that after not receiving payments for the past three months, the university last week decided to extend the salaries of the centre's staff till 30 September, in the light of Finance Ministry's notice to UGC.
The official said: “UGC's decision on annual schemes seems absolutely preposterous. This means that the centres will be reviewed on a year-to-year basis, and the funding can stop at any time. How are centres supposed to function like that with no safety for the future? Now, the UGC is reviewing all the social exclusion centres, and any centre can be disbanded before 30 September.”
Among the 35 centres set up, only six institutions have been able to make a permanent spot for themselves in the UGC's schemes. Among them are centres under the Hyderabad Central University and Maulana Azad University. These centres were successful in gaining permanent status for regular funding. These universities are still being funded, while others are not.
A Jamia official told Catch: “Unlike some universities, which were able to get regular funding, our university has not been able to cater to the demands of the centre, or convince the UGC for permanent status. If UGC decides to disband the centres, what will happen to the important research being conducted in the centres? As of now, we are in limbo. It seems that this government perhaps does not want these centres to go on. It is clear that inclusion and empowerment of minority groups isn't an issue important enough for this government.”
The JNU official said: “I am quite convinced that post 30 September, many of these 35 centres will be scrapped.”
The idea behind these centres
Social exclusion study centres were set up by the UGC in 2006, under the chairmanship of Sukhadeo Thorat, the Dalit scholar.
The aim was to study the structures and processes of exclusion and discrimination.
Social exclusion detaches individuals and groups from social relations and institutions, and makes it impossible for them to participate in various aspects of economic, social and political life.
The focus of these centres was to enable further research on present and future sites of discrimination and exclusion, that adversely affect social groups like Dalits, tribals, and religious minorities.