The Sinhgad Institute of Technology and Sciences (SITS) is spread across seven major campuses sprawled over a large area in and around Pune, the educational centre of Maharashtra. The Institute received state support for acquiring the land for the campuses at concessional rates. It has received many other concessions as well. It has built colleges for engineering, medical and pharmacy. With close to 70,000 students enrolled, it charges hefty fees and collects donations. However it does not meet its obligations towards the teachers and staff that it has hired. The government is looking on while it hires teachers and staff on contract or on temporary status, notwithstanding that they do regular full-time work. Worse, they have not been paid their salaries for months.
These are not aberrations, but the deliberate plan of the Institute’s management. The above is not an imaginary plan but the actual plan implemented by the management of the Sinhgad Institute of Technology and Sciences (SITS). Delay in payment of salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff has been an issue since 2007. This time around though, the patience of staff was tested to its limits. For 12 months till September 2017 they were paid only 40% of their total salary. Since October 2017 they have not been paid at all!
It has been widely reported in press that the promoters have started many other business ventures in the fields of agro products, hotels, investment and finance, advertising and entertainment, etc. It is obvious that the hefty fees collected from the students have been used to start new businesses instead of paying salaries to the teachers and other staff. The management is guilty of other fraudulent practices,too. When they paid only 40% of the salaries, they issued tax deduction certificates for the full amount. The SITS has not even been depositing provident fund into the employees’ accounts. The authorities of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), to which SITS is affiliated, have not taken any action for these irregularities.
Lakhs of teaching and non-teaching staff of many educational institutes across Maharashtra have been facing similar problems over the last decade. However what is significant about the struggle of SITS is the fact that despite many threats the staff is resolutely coming out on streets in defense of their rights. When in September 2017 one professor gave a written complaint to All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) he was immediately suspended by the Institute. The Institute management did not however succeed in scaring the teachers. Hundreds of teachers signed a joint petition to the management and unitedly started non co-operation with it. Seeing this unity, the management gave them a written promise that payment of their dues would be started from 24th January 2018 and all dues would be paid by April 2018. However since the management failed to start the payment as promised the employees resumed their struggle. The teachers have now started a relay hunger strike at the Pune University campus. Everyday around 100 teachers from various campuses of Sinhgad Institute are observing a hunger strike.
The students have suffered for no fault of theirs, because lectures and practicals have been suspended for months. Exams are near at hand. There have been no campus placements this year. However the students have realized that it is not their teachers who are to blame. How can they live without being paid for months together? The culprits are the management as well as the government that has not taken any action against it, though this crime is well known. It is heartening to find that thousands of students of SITS have also come out in struggle now and are on an indefinite hunger strike.
The problems faced by the staff and students of SITS and other educational institutes are an outcome of the privatization policy followed by various governments that have occupied the seats of power at the Center and in the states. The teachers, non-academic staff and students need to resolutely wage their struggle for the solution of their immediate problems. They also need to fight to reverse the policy of privatization. For this they need to form strong unions and organizations cutting across institutes. They also need to build solidarity with other sections of working people with the motto, “An attack on one is an attack on all! All for one and one for all!”
The greed of the SITS management, SPPU and callousness of the government of Maharashtra and Central government must be condemned. The struggle of SITS staff is just and deserves full support of the working class.