“‘Historic’ disbursement of UGC funds only seems to have resulted in a ‘historic’ failure to build classrooms, labs”
About a month ago, Vijay Sharma, principal of Delhi University’s Ram Lal Anand College received a letter from the Delhi Development Authority. It was in reply to his application for an approval to build a new academic block and a women’s hostel at an estimated cost of about Rs. 8 crore. Approval would be given, it said, but he had to pay a “composition fee” of more than Rs. 20 crore.
“It was the last approval that we needed to get the final approval from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to go ahead with the project. We have all the other approvals -- from the Fire Department, the Delhi Urban Arts Commission and even the Airports Authority of India. It took us three years to get everything in place and just when it seemed to be working out, this happened,” he said, adding that the money would now probably be given to their evening college to try their luck with “expansion.”
From 2007 onwards, Delhi University and its many colleges have been rich, flushed with funds from the University Grants Commission for the OBC expansion scheme. To use the university’s own wording, this has been “the biggest disbursement of funds in the history of the University involving the sanctioned non-recurring grant to various colleges of more than Rs. 436 crore and a recurring grant of more than Rs. 883 crore.”
In return, all the colleges had to do was increase their student intake by 54 per cent while building the infrastructure needed to accommodate the additional numbers.
However, even these “historic” funds only seem to have resulted in a “historic” failure to build classrooms, or laboratories or anything else that can be classified as “college infrastructure”.
“I got about Rs. 10 crore and when we wanted to add a floor to the already existing building for more classrooms, I went from pillar to post and managed to get all the approvals in place. It took almost three years for the new classrooms to be constructed and now they are in use,” said Hans Raj College principal V. K. Kawatra, adding that their luck with approvals seemed to end with that building.
“We have to build laboratories but we cannot demolish the old buildings to construct them because the college is occupied by students throughout the week, including Saturdays and Sundays. We cannot build a proper building on top of the old one because the pillars holding it up are narrow; we need to use light-weight technology to add an additional floor but getting the approvals has become near-impossible and we have been advised to demolish and rebuild but it is simply impossible for us,” he said.
A few blocks away is the Hindu College, known for its highest cut-off last year. “There is some historic monument near the Hindu Rao Hospital which is about 200 metres away from the college so we now have to take permission from the National Monuments Authority to build some laboratories,” said Hindu College principal Pradyum Kumar.
Prof. Kumar added that his college also has to approach various other agencies like the Fire Department, Delhi Jal Board and Environmental Department for clearances.
The Hindu College principal said old colleges also face peculiar problems pertaining to their original papers. “Original building plans are sometimes demanded. Our papers date back to 1899, but luckily we were able to find them,” he said, adding that he knew of some other colleges who were not so lucky. The colleges are sometimes also asked for surveys from engineers and other professionals.
“I cannot even just hire an engineer or surveyor like that because it will be seen as abuse of position to favour someone, I have to circulate a tender, allow 11 days time for people to apply and then go through it and then interview people before appointing someone,” Prof. Kumar said.
A stone’s throw away is Shri Ram College of Commerce. Its principal P. C. Jain too admitted that in six years the premier commerce college has just about managed to get all the approvals in place. “We got funds about six years ago and we have now managed to get almost all the approvals in place to start expanding the woman’s hostel.”
Due to the stringent norms pertaining to expansion or reconstruction of buildings many of the colleges have been forced to opt for temporary structures to meet their growing needs for space and infrastructure despite their shortcomings. Miranda House teacher Abha Dev Habib said: “We have been using portable cabins as labs as these aretemporary structures that have been constructed using materials like asbestos sheets. But they have thin walls and so do not keep out the heat. Without air-conditioning, it becomes like an oven.”
Ms. Habib said the new four-year course was only going to add to this grim picture. “You are defeating the very purpose of the expansions, the enrolments are not increasing but the students are being contained in the colleges for one more year, which is going to be an additional strain on the colleges.”
There is also talk about the money given to colleges for infrastructure expansion being recalled. Letters have been going to many colleges from the Delhi University asking them to show cause why they have not utilised the funds and asking them to return the unspent amounts. “We have been told to use the money latest by September, else the money will lapse,” said one principal, not wishing to be named.