Eastern Times, New Delhi : On 30th September 2021, at an Emergency meeting of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Executive Council (EC) a decision was taken to suspend and initiate criminal proceedings against a professor and some members of the staff, for alleged misappropriation of funds. Both fraud and embezzlement are serious violations of JNU rules, yet the entire exercise that was clearly orchestrated in the EC by the Vice Chancellor, whose term ended eight months ago, was nothing but an attempt to hide his own inaction and the true scale of financial irregularities caused by the administration’s wanton mismanagement of public funds over the last five years. No Enquiry Ordered Neither was the EC asked to, and nor was any disciplinary enquiry ordered to ascertain through due process the truth of the matter.
Despite the recommendations of the Fact-Finding Committee (FFC) for the institution of proceedings as per JNU rules, the JNU EC was advised that the inquiry and investigation against the charged persons be outsourced to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and to the Police.
The EC has done so, without even examining whether such a matter falls within the CVC’s domain. There is also no legal justification for the EC treating a criminal complaint and a departmental inquiry as alternatives to each other. This sleight of hand attempted by the VC’s compliant EC is nothing, but a smokescreen designed to obscure the extent of the scandal, as it effectively ensures that the investigation process inside JNU does not go any further, even as the charged employees are denied due process.
Signs of a cover up are also evident in the fact that even as criminal cases are to be made out against identified JNU employees, there is no process of identifying all the fraudulent vendor companies which have allegedly received payments against forged bills and need to be criminally prosecuted.
Withholding information from the Statutory Bodies and a Tale of Misuse of Office Withholding of information from statutory bodies by the JNU VC is a story of misuse of the office.
The individual decisions and undue secrecy made by the Vice Chancellor throughout the process by which this financial misconduct has come to be revealed makes the credibility of the fact finding process highly suspect. This perverse lack of transparency is suggestive of the possible involvement of those beyond the persons charged and even larger amounts in misappropriation. On 30 September 2021, it is a fact that beyond a select few who are part of the Administration, no member of the JNU EC was allowed to see even a single page of the Fact-Finding Committee Report that supposedly formed the basis for the decisions.
This was a result of a deliberate decision of the VC to deny members access to the report till after the meeting. There is, however, no justification for such secrecy and it only opens the EC to the charge of having made decisions without proper application of mind. Indeed, that is clearly the VC’s intention, to exercise all the powers of decision-making himself but to protect himself from any individual responsibility for these decisions by manipulating the EC to rubber stamp them.
This has been the pattern throughout the history of this tale of alleged financial misconduct. That some financial irregularities were there in relation to certain projects had been in the knowledge of the Administration since at least May 2021 or even earlier, and the matter was discussed in the Finance Committee meeting as far back as on 6 July 2021, following which the Fact-Finding Committee was constituted on 7th July 2021.
However, the matter was not brought to the knowledge of the Executive Council till its meeting of 2 September 2021 and that too only as part of the additional agenda and not circulated well in advance of the meeting. For months therefore, all deliberations on the matter were limited to a select group of university officials who were either directly responsible for the irregularities or were those under whose charge they occurred. To this a few others were added by the VC when the Fact-Finding Committee was constituted. Any possibility of conflict of interest was deliberately ignored by the VC when nominating people on the Fact-Finding Committee. The Finance Committee at its meeting on 29 April 2021 considered the audited accounts for the year 2019-20 but access to the Separate Audit Report of DGA (HE & SD) for that year was denied to members of the EC.
Detailed report on the transactions audit for the years 2018-9 and 2019- 20 that was being undertaken by the DGA (HE & SD) was also not placed before the 6 July meeting of the Finance Committee as was promised at the previous meeting on 29 April 2021. Was it not the fear of what they may uncover that eventually prompted the ‘action’? The Scale of Misappropriation Hidden: Failure of the system of checks and accounting procedures It may also be noted here that the University’s Finance Officer was removed in 2017, and the acting FO appointed by the VC to hold that office from November 2017 till April 2019 was someone with no experience or expertise relevant to that office but was such a favourite of the VC that he was simultaneously holding several other offices then and continues to do so till date.
Is the appointment of ‘favourites’ on important financial decision-making positions not connected with oversight failures of the VC and his appointed staff? How else can one explain permitting irregularities to escape the University’s internal audit process across financial years.
How much has been siphoned off and who all have participated in that process and benefited from it remains unknown, and that is the way it will remain because of the EC decision. The one piece of evidence that the FFC has found which clearly points towards siphoning off funds and not merely improper or loose accounting practices is the existence of no traceable firms with GST numbers who served as ‘vendors’ of the consumables.
The FFC, however, has not identified all such shell companies and the ones randomly identified have received only Rs. 49 lakhs (49,20,216) in the years 2019-20 and 2020-21. Whether these ‘vendors’ have received any other payments from JNU other than those related to the Projects in question has also not been ascertained. Because these companies have not been traced, who are the individuals involved in creating and operating these companies are also not known.
A concerted attempt is being made to fix Rs. 88 lakhs (88,10,712) as the amount which has been misappropriated or embezzled. However, this amount is only the amount established to be the ‘excess’ expenditure incurred in four projects.
Such excess expenditure is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for misappropriation and embezzlement through the modus operandi that the FFC claims to have uncovered.
This mode allegedly involves procuring false bills of consumables from actual or shadow vendors, getting them approved, and pocketing the payment made for the same by all those involved without anything being received in exchange by the University/Project. This modus operandi can be used even for expenditure that falls within the limit of the sanctioned grant, while expenditures involving no siphoning off can exceed the sanctioned grants. The ‘excess’ amount then neither tells us how much money has been actually siphoned off and who have been its beneficiaries – it only reveals the failure of the system of checks and accounting procedures.
The consequences of this cover up by the Vice Chancellor will be that many of the guilty would get away scot-free while genuine research activity in JNU gets increasingly mired in bureaucratic red tape. The VC has violated the letter and spirit of the JNU Act by deliberately misleading the EC into taking a decision without being duly informed of the facts of the case.
The emergency EC that was called on the 30th September was clearly an exercise in damage control indulged by the Vice Chancellor who had during his tenure sought to systematically destroy the university by violating all principles and norms laid out in the JNU Act and Statutes.
JNU Teachers Association demands that an enquiry be instituted on the cover up of financial wrongdoing by the VC and be personally held responsible under the command structure for dereliction of duties in managing the affairs of the university run on public funds.