Srinagar: Despite massive grants by Government of India, key research projects undertaken at Kashmir University during the past few years have hit a roadblock, with researchers blaming the varsity’s Dean Research for withholding funds and even lying to them about having received funds.
A multi-crore research project conceived in 2015, of which the outgoing KU VC Prof Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi and the Dean Research himself are part, is still stuck at the tendering stage for installation of equipment required for starting the project.
The Rs 5 crore research project titled ‘Kashmir Himalayan Biodiversity: Documentation, Bio-prospection and Conservation’, was approved by the University Grants Commission under the scheme ‘Centre with Potential for Excellence in Particular Areas’ (CPEPA). Kashmir University has established a separate centre under this scheme and the Dean Research is its Chief Coordinator.
In reply to an RTI application a few months ago, the varsity said that out of the sanctioned Rs 5 crore, only a little over Rs 2 crore and 60 lakh had been released by the UGC.
Sources said that of the released money, only over Rs 33 lakh, roughly accounting for 12 percent, has been spent “on the salaries of the hired researchers”.
A Government of India funding agency transferred “lakhs of rupees” to the office of Dean Research for a research project more than a year ago, a researcher at KU working on a key Government of India-funded research project, told Kashmir Reader. He said that the office of Dean Research consistently “denied having received any funds” for the project.
The researcher, who is a senior professor at KU, “came to know about the grants only through the funding agency after a year and a half.”
“The funding agency mails us that the funds have come, but when we go to the Dean Research’s office, he denies having received any funds,” said the researcher.
Fearing repercussions, the researcher did not want to specifically identify the research project he was working on, because “If you identify the project, you will automatically identify us,” he said.
Senior professors at Kashmir University who are part of key Government of India-sponsored research projects complained that the projects have been badly hit “since the current Dean Research took over” last year.
Pleading anonymity, the professors did not want to name the key projects they were working on, either.
The professors accused the Dean Research of denying funds on the basis of official financial years (April 1 to March 31). “Once the first instalment of grants comes, say in September of a particular year, funds are to be spent till September of next year. What has happened since the current Dean Research took over, he is demanding from us ‘Carry Forward Letters’ from the funding agency at the culmination of a financial year in March, without which we cannot utilise the funds from March till September,” a senior professor part of a key research project told Kashmir Reader.
“When we checked the actual guidelines for the project implementation, the funding agencies clearly mention that all the funds that have remained unutilised should be deemed to be carried forward, which means that there is no requirement of any carry forward letter,” added the professor.
The professor said that the funding agencies were “not too much bothered to send the carry forward letters as there are hundreds of universities for them to deal with.”
“They (funding agencies) tell us that they have granted funds for the university, which should be spent, but because of this ‘carry forward’ mess, huge funds lapsed last year,” rued the professor.
The Dean Research stubbornly sticking to financial-year red tape has not just resulted in lapse of funds but also many researchers have been “disheartened and want to leave the work midway,” a senior professor rued.
The Dean Research, the professor said, had “recently taken away the authority of deans of faculties to hire researchers for research projects”.
“The deans of faculties were authorised for project deputations as per norms. The deans hired the researchers within days, but since he (Dean Research) took away their authorisation, the procedure stretch to months,” alleged the professor.
Dean Research Prof Zafar A Reshi said on this matter, “We do not dictate project funding. Each project comes with rules and conditions. Whatever is written there, we will follow that. You cannot do anything if a funding agency directs to spend the funds in a stipulated time period.”
He said that funding agencies were asking to submit fund Utilisation Certificates (UCs) by March 31.
“There is a financial code that has to be followed. Any deviation from these rules would be a financial impropriety,” Prof Reshi said.
On allegations that he denied funds for a research project despite the funding agency having transferred the money, he said, “Normally, we do not receive funds or letters. There is a simple RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) transfer. We have been asking the funding agency to number the RTGS transfers. We were not able to locate the RTGS because it is not specified which department it is meant for.”
On the sluggish pace of the project of which he himself is part of along with Prof Andrabi, Prof Reshi said that “nobody is turning up” for installation of the required equipment “even after publishing the tenders in national dailies”.
The Dean Research asked the researchers to “follow rules and regulations strictly, then everything would fall in line.”