At a time when the country is grappling with a coronavirus scare, sanitation workers of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) allege that they have not been paid their salaries for two months. Many are contemplating quitting their jobs while some are thinking of taking loans at exorbitant rates. Speaking to NewsClick, the workers maintain that the university has asked them to step up with sanitation work in the campus amid the coronavirus outbreak but that it remained completely non-committal to paying their dues.
A worker who requested anonymity, said that he has not received his salary for the previous two months. “What I get is around Rs 12,000 per month. With this salary, I hardly saved anything. My savings have now vanished and I do not know long I can survive this situation. For how long will the shop keeper will give us ration on credit?” he asked. Helplessness is writ large on his face. Another worker who was sitting beside him told NewsClick that he was exploring the idea of taking a loan through a prominent lending website. He said, “I had taken a loan for my brother’s marriage from a private lender at 10%. Simultaneously, I need to pay EMIs for my bike too. Even if I sell my bike to settle the loan, one needs to pay school fees for children. With no money, how do one expect to make it?” he asked. He further added that they are now being denied what was basic duty material. “We used to receive our uniform, shoes and shocks from the University. Now, they give us money. Similarly, our bonus is entirely based on the whims and fancies of the contractor,” he added.
The worker, who had dropped out of school in the eight standard, does not want his children to “do what I and my forefathers did. However, time is testing our patience,” he said. About the delay in payments, workers said that they were told by the contractors that they themselves had not been paid yet.
A source in the university told NewsClick that the financial distress in the university cropped up after JNU decided to award the contract for conducting entrance examinations to the National Testing Agency.
A source at the university who requested anonymity said that the university’s association with a new security agency also added to costs. There are lower number of guards, however. They said, “If we look at the accounts, the university spent Rs 9 crore more on security in the financial year (FY) 2018-19 in comparison to FYs 2016-17 and 2017-18. This money was earlier used to pay for necessary services like mess and those provided for by sanitation workers.”
NewsClick had reported that the JNU administration employed fewer security guards as compared to when it was associated with the previous company. At the same time, the amount spent on making security arrangements had increased significantly. The Tender awarded to Cyclops Security and Allied Services Private Limited dated January 1, 2019, read, “In order to provide the security services of Ex-Servicemen Security Guards (Unarmed) in JNU Campus located at New Delhi round the clock in three shifts with 400 personnel, the contract will be initially for two years.” The contract also maintained that the company was paid Rs 46,613 per guard. The move was questioned by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association. In its memorandum to the high-powered committee, the association had said, “The University is weighed down by wasteful, non-academic expenditure—a 250% increase in spending on security despite the fact that the quality of security stands compromised.”
The source alleged that the entire money spent on the conducting entrance exams through National Testing Agency is still unknown even to the members of the Executive Council. “I believe that the university should ask the Ministry of Human Resources Development about the House Rent Allowance deducted from the students who have cleared tests like JRF and SRF which is around Rs 18 crore,” they add.
Commenting on the crisis, the All India Students Association released a statement which said that the university should take responsibility as the prime employer and make urgent arrangements to pay the dues. It said, “it is a shame that the Vice-chancellor who boasts of running the varsity on a world-class repute cannot ensure timely pay-outs to contract workers. Last year when the workers sat on strike demanding Diwali bonus, the vice-chancellor rather than addressing their concerns and fulfilling their demands threatened the workers. We have seen how the JNU VC knit-picked All India Kamagar Union president Urmila and her colleague by forcing the contractor to sack them out of their job for demanding implementation of order for ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’,” the release added.