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RGNUL VC, NLU-D candidate Jaswal at loggerheads with state, as students request forensic audit, fee waivers [UPDATE-1: HT report]


RGNUL Patiala’s finances and its vice-chancellor (VC) Paramjit Jaswal‘s tenure has been under scrutiny from the state’s Higher Education Department, with multiple sources strongly suggesting that Jaswal may have tendered his as-yet unaccepted resignation in response.

The Tribune reported late yesterday that:

As per documents in possession with The Tribune, the office of Directorate, Education Department (Colleges), has demanded explanation from the RGNUL about its income and expenditure over the years.

In particular, this includes several construction contracts allegedly handed out without a tender, which we understand had resulted in the education department asking Jaswal for an explanation and further details.

Notably, RGNUL has never published its accounts on its website, with Jaswal telling us in March 2019 that he was amenable to publication of its accounts but that this could also cause malicious misinterpretation.

According to the Tribune, “rumours of Vice-Chancellor Dr Paramjit Singh Jaswal having tendered his resignation started doing the rounds”, but neither the paper nor we have been able to authoritatively confirm this, though a large number of our campus sources claim to also be aware of his resignation, though none had seen a copy of his resignation letter first hand.

Update 00:07: The Hindustan Times has quoted an anonymous higher education department official as saying, amongst other things: “The Punjab government has funded the university to the tune of Rs 220 crore, and it has every right to ask how the money was spent … whether the rules were followed or not. CAG has left out several areas which need proper investigation. The university took grants from the state government, but didn’t supply a single audit report to the education department.” The official also said: “While the Punjabi University has slipped into a debt of Rs 130 crore in the past one decade, RGNUL made fixed deposits of Rs 48 crore. Why they concealed these facts from the Punjab government?”

We have reached out to Jaswal for comment repeatedly over the last few days but he had declined to confirm or deny his having tendered his resignation, nor comment on the department’s inquiry.

One student speculated that Jaswal’s resignation, if true, could also be a sophisticated strategic gambit on Jaswal’s behalf to counter any inquiry, at a time when no state government or chancellor (who would have to formally accept a VC’s resignation) probably has interest in the rigmarole of appointing a new head of a national law school.

(A relevant case in point here might also be NLU Delhi’s search for the successor of VC Prof Ranbir Singh, which has been pending for nearly seven months now since October 2019; Jaswal, incidentally, according to several NLU Delhi sources, is one of three candidates recommended by the search committee for the job, subject to the chancellor’s final selection, which has not been forthcoming due to Covid-19).

The student speculating on Jaswal’s resignation noted that Jaswal had verbally indicated that he would resign also during discussions in the wake of the student protests more than a year ago, which had been effective in bringing students, the university’s chancellor and Jaswal to a discussion table to eventually hammer out a compromise.

Students have been digging

Over the last year, RGNUL students had been collecting a number of Right to Information (RTI) replies from the university, highlighting some potential irregularities in RGNUL’s accounts.

On 31 August 2019, students had then anonymously (for “fear of backlash”) sent an 11-page letter to the principal secretary Technical Education & Industrial Training, Punjab, Anurag Verma (IAS), with a list of grievances and in particular highlighting some of these potential issues, a copy of which we have seen.

The students noted that a “forensic audit” of RGNUL’s accounts was required.

Those student grievances are neither new nor over: only in March, we had reported that students were aggrieved that their hard-fought-for inquiry report presided over by a judge against a former senior RGNUL staff member, was not being provided to them under RTI.

That inquiry had followed protests in March 2019 against Jaswal and the administration, and the engagement and a campus visit by the National Commission for Women in May 2019.

Students had also requested state for Covid fee waiver

More recently, 726 RGNUL students had sent a petition to the state government requesting a waiver of university fees, due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The students had requested a waiver of any annual increase in tuition fees, a rebate of late fees and a partial refund of already paid fees, such as amenities, moot court, mess and campus development fund fees (since the campus remained closed due to Covid-19).

The students had written:

With due respect, this is to bring to your kind attention the economic stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and extended lockdowns on the families of RGNUL students. The cataclysmic damage caused to the various sectors of Indian Economy are unprecedented. At the micro level, this has hit the financial condition of many households across the country. In this scenario, many parents/guardians find it difficult to pay the fees for the next semester...

We understand that the Punjab chief minister’s office has forwarded the students’ request to the education department for consideration as per government policy.

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