Alleviate the troubles of ad-hoc teachers by making them permanent: DUTA president

Rajib Ray at a DUTA protest on 18 December Rishi Kochhar for The Caravan
20 December, 2019

On 28 August, the vice chancellor of Delhi University issued a circular asking constituent colleges and departments to fill faculty vacancies at the earliest. Until the permanent appointments were made, the circular said, “Colleges may appoint guest faculty, if required, against new vacancies arising first time in academic session 2019–20.” It did not clarify whether the new vacancies included those posts currently filled by ad-hoc teachers, who are hired for 120 days at a time and make up two-fifths of DU’s faculty. These teachers have long sought regularisation as permanent employees, and saw the circular as a step to hire them under the precarious designation of guest faculty. They began protesting against the circular, and on 4 December, thousands of teachers stormed the vice chancellor’s office, as part of a larger agitation to secure permanent employment. The following day, the ministry of human-resource development issued a statement amending the circular to include ad-hoc, temporary and contract faculty among those who could be appointed to fill the vacancies in the short term. It also said that ad-hoc teachers working in the current academic year could continue in their jobs until the next academic session, if permanent recruitment does not occur before then.

Rajib Ray, a professor of philosophy at Kirori Mal College, is currently serving his second term as president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association. He is also the president of the Federation of Central University Teachers’ Associations. In an interview with Sreerag PS, an independent journalist, Ray spoke about the movement his organisation is leading for the absorption of ad-hoc teachers in the university faculty.

Sreerag PS: Could you explain the circumstances that led to the protest by teachers of Delhi University?
Rajib Ray: From where will I start! I can’t make a Mahabharata about it. The elucidation would be that in Delhi University, for long, we have had this concept of ad-hoc teachers. The genesis of this concept is in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it was a few [teachers]. The peak period [for hiring ad-hoc teachers] was from 1989 to 1993, during the NET issue. [The National Eligibility Test, which qualifies candidates for teaching posts and research fellowships, began in 1989.] Then it peaked around 2005, when there was a ten to fifteen percent cut in substantive positions. They were not to be filled up. Now we have reached another peak. At this moment, about four and a half thousand ad-hoc teachers are there. In a period of nearly four years, no interviews have taken place, especially in Delhi University colleges.

On 28 August this year, the university authority came out with a letter saying that all new vacancies after this year will be filled by guest faculty. In the months of September, October and early November, we wrote letter after letter to every place. I am also the president of the Federation of Central University Teachers’ Associations. We asked the University Grants Commission to intervene, because this would create a lot of problems. The Delhi University Principals’ Association also took up the position that they cannot extend [appointments of ad-hoc teachers] till the university gives a clarification.

On this situation, we had gone for an indefinite agitation, which included a few things, including invigilation, evaluation and so on. The first day of the programme was the gherao of the vice chancellor, where the vice chancellor’s office was seized. The ministry of human-resources development formally met us, and others, and on the second day [of the agitation], gave some clarifications also. There was a temporary kind of relief. But this temporary relief—you know, on EWS posts [the expansion of faculty positions to accommodate the increase of seats following reservations for students from economically weaker sections] and second-tranche posts [the remaining faculty vacancies as part of the faculty expansion to accommodate the increase of seats following reservations for students from Other Backward Classes]—all these seemed to require clarification. But there were certain welcome positions taken by the MHRD.

SPS: What were the demands put forward by the DUTA before the MHRD and UGC? To what extent were they met?
RR: I don’t know how far you know about the EWS case. Among EWS students, we have increased the number of positions. And, in the university, what they have done is that whichever [faculty] posts they have not filled up, for every tenth position, more or less, there is a roster known as the EWS roster. Every tenth position has gone to the so-called unreserved EWS category. There is a reason why I am saying “so-called.” In Delhi University, all these positions were filled up by ad-hoc positions, who were unreserved, but cannot claim to be under the EWS category. This is because EWS is kept as all family income, including your spouse’s income, being under Rs 8 lakh. It is different from the structure of the OBC non-creamy layer. Those people who are working on ad-hoc basis cannot apply for the EWS category. If implemented, around four hundred jobs will be lost. For the time being, on 5 December, [the MHRD] had given that till final appointment, they will not be disturbed, and more additional posts for EWS will come up within 30 days. This is the so-called deal that was struck between the DUTA, MHRD, UGC and other authorities.

After the new UGC regulations were passed, according to the university vice chancellor, all the appointments post July 2018—around three hundred positions—would have also lost their jobs. People are not today willing to accept this temporary relief, because so many of these teachers have suffered for no fault of theirs. As it is, in our profession, you start your career late. You have your master’s degree, MPhil, PhD, and then you turn up into positions that are not permanent in nature.

This has been our primary demand for the last few years. We used to call it regularisation. After a particular general-body meeting, we have taken the word “absorption”—we want all the ad-hoc teachers who are working in the university to get absorbed into the system, into the respective colleges where they are working. We want the government to look into it carefully, because the government has done nothing about it. Five or ten years back, we never used to call for [agitations], but the government has only given promises. Whether it has been the earlier minister [Prakash] Javadekar or [Ramesh Pokhriyal, the current HRD minister], none of these promises were kept.

You cannot just say that they will get appointments. The rate of appointments, in such a large university, is so slow that these appointments, with the system that we have, will take years. In many places, ad-hoc teachers constitute up to two thirds of the strength of the faculty—there are colleges like that. They have been working here for long. Every four months, they are recommended by the individual departments. In many places, they may have a second set of interviews also. The number of leaves they have is very few, and they get one day’s break and then they join. You’ll be surprised to know there will be people who have worked here for two decades [as ad-hoc teachers].

They have given the best part of their life, and the best way to alleviate their troubles would be to make them permanent over here through a one-time regulation, which will help them to get absorbed by the system. That is our demand at the moment.

SPS: Can you explain about the Kale committee report on implementing reservations for university faculty? What is its relevance to this issue?
RR: The Kale committee report has to be made public. That report has not been made public so far. Unofficially people have got a copy—whether it is checked copy or not, we need to know more about this. DUTA is the first body that did a programme on the 200-point roster [the previous system of appointments at DU, which considered the university as a whole, rather than individual departments, as the unit for determining reservations], from 5 March to 8 March 2018. DUTA has fought for social justice in this country in the last few years. DUTA is proud to stand up for social-justice programmes. If there is any teachers’ association that has given days and days, months together, to bring separate groups for one platform, that has been DUTA. So DUTA is not the kind of anti-social-justice platform now, which it may have been two decades back. Our whole nature has changed, and we have changed for the better.

SPS: How do you evaluate the present government’s attitude towards higher education in the country?
RR: Our position on the New Education Policy is very clear. With other teachers’ organisations, we have given our critique on the draft of the NEP. The kind of policy the draft visualises would be detrimental to the development of higher education in the country. Our critique is well known, and for details we would need to sit together to discuss, especially with the kind of situation I am in right now. Out in the cold for the last eight days, teachers have been braving it out without shade over our head. People are talking about rooms and regulations, which they themselves have been flouting for years.

SPS: What is the response you have received from students regarding your agitation?
RR: Students are on the examination situation. They will come back in January. Never in the history of Delhi University have we stopped evaluation—we are proud there has never been a zero batch. There have been universities where the results do not come in time, and people lose years. Even in the 1980s or even now, our calendar remains the same, despite our agitational programmes. We are very sure when the university reopens in January, the students will be on our side. Whatever we may do that in some sense adversely affects the students, the students will be taught by teachers who are unsafe. The level that the teachers can reach will also not be as expected. Even last year, thousands of teachers and students had marched on the “Save DUTA” programme. When the university opens next year, I assure you the students will be on our side.

SPS: So has the Delhi University Students’ Union expressed their support for your agitation?
RR: No. I mean, they are not against us. Many student organisations have come [and said] they also want that the teachers must become permanent. But they definitely do not want us to go into some agitational programme, because in some sense, whenever we take some action, it adversely affects the students. They are with us in our issue, but they would also want their interests to be safeguarded. The DUSU has officially communicated their support for our cause, but not on our issue of examination, evaluation and other boycotts. It’s a balance.

This interview has been edited and condensed.