Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST Kashmir)

SRINAGAR — The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has taken the lid off brazen illegalities and irregularities in recruitment, promotions and allowances in Jammu & Kashmir’s two prestigious agricultural varsities- SKUAST (Kashmir) and SKUAST (Jammu).

In its report, which was tabled in the Parliament on Tuesday as per the news agency KNO, the CAG has exposed wrongdoings by the SKUAST authorities in appointments, promotions and entitlements over the years, raising serious questions over silence on J&K’s successive regimes over their affairs.

In the report, the auditor pointed out that both universities violated UGC norms for the direct appointment of teachers and filled these posts through lateral entry.

“The mandatory criteria for appointment and career advancement of teachers was diluted. Pre-mature promotions, the inadmissible benefit of career advancement scheme, incorrect pay fixations, inadmissible allowances and entitlements, resulted in an extra financial burden to the government exchequer,” reads the report.

The CAG has said that the human resource function of the universities was far from satisfactory and was plagued by irregular appointments, favoritism and inadmissible financial up-gradations.

“Relaxing the minimum standards for appointments and promotions of teachers compromised the quality of teaching and research in the universities. Lateral entry to teaching positions from lower technical positions deprived the university of availing the benefits of recruiting meritorious teachers through open advertisements. Extension of undue benefits due to excess drawl of pay, allowances and entitlements led to financial strain on the state coffers,” the report states.

SKUAST was established in 1982 under a law enacted by the legislature of Jammu & Kashmir for catering to the requirement of agricultural research, education and extension education.

It was bifurcated into two universities – Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K) and Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences (SKUAST-J) – by virtue of an amendment in the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Act in 1999.

Illegalities in appointments

The CAG noticed cases of appointments without the adoption of mandatory academic performance indicators, appointments without mandatory NET qualification, appointments by counting inadmissible periods in teaching experience and appointments through lateral entry by irregular up-gradation of technical posts.

The auditor said that though the Agriculture Universities had adopted (July 2009) revised University Grant Commission pay scales, they notified a diluted version of the performance-based appraisal system (PBAS) for the appointment and career advancement of teachers after a gap of over six years in July 2017.

The UGC regulations 2010 prescribed a Performance Based Appraisal System (PBAS) with specific Academic Performance Indicators (API) for the appointment and promotion of teachers.

“During the intervening period between January 2011 (due date of implementation of UGC regulations) and July 2017, SKUAST-J appointed 31 assistant professors, 14 associate professors and seven professors on the basis of a self-devised format with respective weightage of 30 percent, 40 percent and 50 percent given to interview up to 2014 and 30 percent thereafter against the prescribed weightage of only 20 percent. In a similar manner, SKUAST-K appointed 68 assistant professors, four associate professors and two professors on the basis, during the period between January 2011 to July 2017,” the report states.

The auditor has remarked that in absence of PBAS, the teaching, learning, professional development, research and academic contribution of the candidates remained un-assessed.

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Pointing out more illegalities in appointments, the CAG report states that out of the 31 assistant professors/junior scientists appointed between the years 2011 and 2017, seven did not possess the minimum eligibility of NET – something which is necessary for these posts as per University Grants Commission and Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR).

“In SKUAST-J, 31 assistant professors/junior scientists and 13 SMSs were appointed between the years 2011 and 2017. Out of the 31 assistant professors/junior scientists, seven did not possess the minimum eligibility of NET. The selection committee had recommended these cases subject to obtaining certificates from the candidates that their PhD degree was as per UGC regulations, 2009. The requisite certificates, though called for, were neither produced to audit nor available on record. In eight out of 44 appointments, the representative from the state government was not present in the meeting of the selection committee. Thus, the oversight mechanism of government was not availed by SKUAST-J in respect of these appointments,” reads the report.

The audit further noticed that the Agriculture Universities had not specified any norm regarding the minimum number of applications required for holding an interview. “Records showed that in 29 cases, interviews were conducted when applications received were less than three and in eight cases, interviews were conducted when there was only one candidate,” the report states.

The audit noticed that in respect of six associate professors (SKUAST-J: 04, SKUAST-K: 02) appointed between January 2004 and November 2015, time spent on acquiring PhD, service rendered as a guest lecturer, adhoc/consolidated service and as visiting scientist was included in teaching experience of seven/eight years required for the appointment of associate professors.

The UGC regulations and University statutes stipulate that previous regular service as an assistant professor or in an equivalent post should be counted for direct recruitment to the post of associate professor and time spent on acquiring PhD and as a guest lecturer shall not qualify for being counted as teaching experience.

The auditor has found that the appointment of teaching posts through lateral entry caused a financial burden of Rs 10.16 crore to the state exchequer.

“In violation of UGC regulations which stipulated appointment of assistant professors only through direct recruitment, the Agriculture Universities notified (1994, 2012 and 2018) Career Advancement Scheme (CAS) for technical posts stipulating promotion of non-teaching technical employees to teaching positions. While the notification of 1994 specified placement of senior technical assistants (STAs) borne on University establishment as assistant professors after successful completion of two years of probation, notifications of September 2012 and July 2018 extended the benefit of the scheme to technical posts of programme assistants/ TAs borne on ICAR strength,” the report lays bare.

The report states that Agriculture Universities irregularly upgraded 10 senior technical assistants in SKUAST-J and 45 STAs in SKUAST-K, to entry-level UGC pay scales of assistant professors.

“Even the requirement of two years of service arbitrarily fixed by the Universities for up-gradation was not followed as one STA of SKUAST-K was prematurely designated (February 1998) as an assistant professor after completing only four months of service as STA which led to further future up-gradations and resulted in excess payment of ₹0.30 crore. Further, one STA in SKUAST-K was placed in the next higher pay scale before the successful completion of probation. As a result, he was prematurely designated as an assistant professor, leading to further placement in higher scales under CAS. This had resulted in excess payment of Rs 0.26 crore,” the report further states.

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The CAG has observed that by upgrading non-teaching staff to teaching positions, the Agriculture Universities had restricted competition and denied opportunities to aspiring meritorious candidates to apply for teaching posts, and compromised quality of teaching in such cases as minimum standards prescribed for appointment of teachers had not been maintained.

The audit also noticed that the Universities had compromised the standards for assessment of research achievements of candidates claiming promotion to the post of professors by diluting the criteria of quality and number of research publications.

“Against the requirement of five publications for professors, the Universities stipulated a requirement of only three publications. Submission of publications for assessment of eminent experts before the interview was also not ensured by the Universities. The Universities had thus avoided the methodology prescribed in the UGC regulations for CAS, which defeated the purpose of PBAS,” the report states.

It further says the move rendered the promotion of 122 associate professors (62 in SKUAST-J and 60 in SKUAST-K) to professors in the Universities irregular.

The audit noticed cases of premature placements in the next higher grade pay without completion of prescribed residency periods. “Against the minimum residency period of five years required for placement in the next higher grade pay of ₹8,000, 17 assistant professors (SKUAST-J: 05; SKUAST-K: 12) were placed (between August 2010 and July 2017) in the higher grade and designated as associate professors prematurely after completing service ranging between two years and four years eight months only,” the report states.

Audit scrutiny of service records of 557 non-teaching employees out of a total of 1,794 revealed cases of recruitments through regularisation of adhoc/contractual employees, appointments without qualifying mandatory tests, direct recruitments to posts required to be filled through promotion, lateral entry to posts prescribed to be filled through direct recruitment etc.

“Audit noticed that out of 557 cases checked in audit, 112 (SKUAST-J: 31; SKUAST-K: 81) personnel were initially engaged (between March 1992 and November 2010) either on adhoc or contractual basis for a period of 89 days. The period of their engagement was extended from time to time. These adhoc/contractual employees were regularised (2015) without advertising the post,” the report states.

The auditor has also pointed towards the dearth of manpower, both teaching and non-teaching, in Agriculture Universities of J&K.

“In SKUAST-J, the shortfall ranged between 26 and 33 percent under the teaching category and 19 and 26 percent under the non-teaching category during the period. Similarly, shortage of manpower in SKUAST-K ranged between 22 and 33 percent under the teaching category and 29 and 32 percent under the non-teaching category during 2016-21,” the report states.

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