Financial jugglery has kept Thanjavur’s Tamil University afloat.

His biggest worry is how to make ends meet. One is not talking of the common man, worried about his monthly budget, but about the Vice-Chancellor of Tamil University, Thanjavur.

The University was established in 1981, to undertake research in grammar, literature and science as seen in Tamil literary works; to explore the linguistic aspects of Tamil vis-a-vis other languages. Tamil scholar K.M. Venkatramaiah, epigraphists Dr. Y. Subbarayalu and Dr. S. Rasu are some of the eminent scholars, who worked at the University.

But today, meeting even its salary obligations has become tough. “The University has been sick for a long time,” says Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, retired Professor of the Translation Department, and from what he says it is clear that what kept the University afloat all these years was a bit of financial jugglery. In the past when salaries had to be paid, the University would dip into its Provident Fund account. Sometimes the interest from endowments would be used to pay salaries. Scholarship amounts had to be diverted to pay salaries, and small amounts would be paid to the scholars, as and when they asked for the money.

“Retirees do not get their pension benefits. Even the gratuity is not paid in full,” says Dr. Subbarayalu. “Because the University is not under the Higher Education Department, it has been left out of many Government schemes”, says Radhakrishnan.

Tamil University is located on a 1,000-acre campus. The administrative block and the library building were designed by Ganapati Sthapati. Librarian Dr. A.Gunasekharan shows me around the library, which has 1,50,000 books. The oldest book in the collection is ‘Hortus Indicus Malabaricus,’ published in 1672, in Amsterdam. It is a book about plants of the Malabar region with illustrations. The first edition of Thirukkural published in 1812, by Gnanaprakasam of Thanjavur, is also in the collection.

Mobile library

In a room near the library is housed a bullock cart, which served as a mobile library! This mobile library was started in Melavasal village, in Mannargudi taluk, by Kanagasabai Pillai, and was inaugurated in 1931, by Dr. S.R. Ranganathan, father of library science in India. Books were published as part of the mobile library’s goal of providing adult education. In simple Tamil, these books gave the villagers tips on gardening, bee keeping, cottage industries, and on ways to augment their income. These books too can be seen in the Tamil University library. One meets Dr. Hazina Begum, who has a Ph.D in bio-chemistry. She is working on a one-year project on how dietary sources such as sesame, yam and enterolignan small millets help in regulating estrogen metabolism. Further study will include effects of herbs such as Vishnugranthin on estrogen levels. The Siddha medicine department has only one pharmacologist, and could do with more, she says.

The University’s Manuscriptology department is approved by the National Manuscript Mission for the maintenance of manuscripts. There are 15 lakh palm leaf manuscripts in the University, and some of them have been edited and four volumes have been published. There are five lakh rare paper manuscripts in Modi. A scholar from Dravidian University, Kuppam, spends weekends here working on the project. There are a few thousand paper manuscripts in Tamil too, and these too have to be translated.

Maritime Archaeology is a discipline still in its infancy. But the University has a separate department for the subject and offers M.Phil and Ph.D programmes. The department is engaged in identifying ancient ports of Tamil Nadu.

The University has received generous grants from the State Government for research projects, but the budgetary deficit with regard to administrative expenses still remains. “The University needs Rs. 22 crores annually, to pay salaries and for other maintenance expenses. But the Finance Department has allocated a little over five crores,” says the Vice Chancellor, Dr. M. Thirumalai.

So how does the University manage? “We get some amount as fees through our Distance Education programmes. Arrears from previous years are being released by the Government and we use this too.” How long can he manage this way? The Vice-Chancellor smiles ruefully. His silence is eloquent. The University is going in for re-accreditation this year, and so it has to fill the vacancies. But if he finds it difficult to pay the salaries of the existing staff, why is he recruiting new faculty? “If we don’t fill the vacancies, we will lose accreditation,” says the Vice Chancellor. Clearly he is in a Catch 22 situation. One can only hope the Government comes to the rescue of the University soon.