Cyclone Mahasen Spares Manipur : Will UGC Team do the Same?

Khingba Luwangcha *

University Grants Commission UGC Logo

Manipur remained indoors when news of Cyclone Mahasen expected to sweep across the State (Churchandpur and Tamenglong first) on May 17 painted the region black and white. Holiday was declared for schools and colleges. Safety tips were circulated by the Government of Manipur. And one of the most important warnings was, "Don't move outside during the cyclone". Perhaps, the generous prayers offered by the people appeased the Nature and Manipur was spared of its wrath and fury other than few mercy sprays of raindrops from the swollen belly of monsoon sky. Yet, the sky remains overcast and uncertainty continues to cloud the minds of the people.

A similar cyclone like situation was brewing in the Government colleges of Manipur, which have received funds from University Grants Commission (UGC) for construction of girls' hostels, swimming pools and others. Just as the expected arrival of Mahasen have caused panic among the common citizenry, the highly confidential news of arrival of the UGC Visiting Expert Committee Constituted for "On-the-Spot Inspection & Evaluation" of various projects rendered the principals, members of Development/Building Committee of various colleges and contractors who have undertaken the projects, panic stricken.

For the first time, principals started opening up to teachers who are not members of the Development (Building) Committee about the lapses, drawbacks or not keeping up of the UGC guidelines or specifications of each project while at the same time keeping quiet on mismanagement of funds. They sought counsel and advice as how to hoodwink the inspection team. Now, it is the time of solidarity; a time to save the name of the college.

Each College Development/Building Committee consists of an architect/engineer, senior members of the faculty (number varies from college to college), college cashier/accountant and Principal (DDO) of the college is the head. They operate in a clandestine manner and visibility of the architect/engineer is a non-occurring phenomenon in any of the Committee meetings. In most cases, memos/minutes of the meetings are manufactured ones and signatures are gathered post-factum. Committee meetings are not meetings in the true sense of the words but a gathering only within a clique (consisting of the DDO, cashier/accountant and a stalwart of the DDO) solely for the purpose of the sharing the booty. Sitting allowances are paid to the other members and incredibly they are easily silenced.

At the time of opening up by the Principal, numerous questions were asked by the concerned teachers, such as, why the projects fall short of the specifications, say in terms of built-up area, dimension of rooms, lack of cupboards or racks in the hostel rooms, etc. or on the quality of the materials. At this juncture, Principals begin to blame the contractors, thus, proving existence of committees totally farcical and meaningless. Committees are supposed to check the lapses and discrepancies and it is the duty of paid architect/engineer who is a part of the Committee is to oversee these nuances. Even the untrained minds can easily map the liaisons and alliances circulating in the clique.

A footnote on the contractors is required at this moment. Call it the tide of the time or the wind of change; it is construction boom-time in Manipur. Nothing works without the contractors. Perhaps, it is also on account of the patronage received from the ministers or MLAs of Manipur who were erstwhile contractors themselves who still engages in the lucrative trade. In the case of higher education, too, contractors are the ones who bring the project to the institutions.

Let's say, since administrators either do not have the know-how or weak in preparing project proposals, they fall prey to the lucrative deals delivered by the contractors. It remains a mystery how UGC entertained these middle-men when projects are awarded to colleges. Problem, in fact originates here. And since, "they" (sic. the contractors) deliver the projects (money involved) at their door steps, administrators do not mind going by their whims and fancies.

Take for example, flouting every known wisdom and norms, a particular contractor, who does not possess the required qualifications, was appointed as the Supervisor of the projects in more than four colleges. Mind you, on the payroll of the colleges @ Rs. 3000 or so per month, for which none of the colleges maintain any pay roll records. Yes, your guess is right, it was instituted at the dying hours, only after hearing the cyclone like news and only when it was realised that money should do the talking during the on-spot inspection time.

Indeed, when the news of the on-spot inspection arrived, principals and key members of the development/building committees of various colleges kept in touch with each other. These pertained to sharing of information and best way to cover the untidy footsteps such as method of manufacturing of bills (fake indeed) of expenditure, identifying the members from Manipur who would accompany the lone "expert" of UGC and compiling of "best answers" to most likely questions, etc. And in the entire process, it also included "involving" the teachers of the colleges, and in any inevitability "support" from the students' unions. But above all, the contractors masquerade as the saviour who can suck in all the blames.

Cyclonic days

Although May 17 was a declared holiday and people were advised to keep indoor on account of Mahasen, principals and members of the Development Committee were as busy as bees. The shoddy weather or the threat of Mahasen did not deter them from doing their homework or collating information from the "visited" colleges. During the first two days, Mahasen-like fury of Prof. S. Pradhan, Utkal University & Chairperson, UGC-Expert Committe, did not spare any of the principals. We heard he literally destroyed, like a twister, the integrity (as if they have any) of almost every principal of the colleges so visited for going against the UGC norms. Media, you missed the show!

Funnily enough, the four other accompanying experts (Director, CDC & Nodal Officer, UGC-Expert Committee; Academic Member, Dean of Students, MU and Member- UGC-Expert Committee; Technical Member, S.E. (HQ) PWD, Manipur Member-UGC-Expert Committee and Technical Member, University Engineer, Member-UGC-Expert Committee) stood on the side of the principals. Can we actually ignore the socio-metrics of Manipur?

Somehow or the other all of us are relatives and it is in our blood to protect our kinsmen. Numero Uno reason why builders were not selected on the basis of the tender was on account of law and order problem. Reason given was, "if the projects were made public then host of insurgents would take (loot) away the money". Reason why the constructions often detracted from the original proposal submitted was, "money is too little and insurgents take away money on percentage basis, and thus, rooms are built smaller and quality of materials negotiated, etc". Or otherwise, blame is on the composition of the soil as numerous colleges were established on swampy areas.

Sadly, insurgents are the usual scapegoats, the tool which anybody with a vested interest uses to gain something. And given Manipur's image, it sounds all the more true. Once upon a time, the rumour was that it was the insurgents who indulged in drugs and arms smuggling and child trafficking. But emerging facts are proving otherwise. When the inquisition like investigations by the UGC team is on, contractors who masquerade not only as expert supervisors accompany the Expert Committee but also arrange food for the team and assure that the visit is a pleasurable one, well, at least for Prof. Pradhan.

Mahasen Spares Manipur. Will UGC do the Same?

It is a vexing question. But most likely, yes. First, there is hunger for funds especially in cash-strapped states like Manipur for the upliftment of colleges. UGC is aware of this fact. But above all, the experts accompanying Prof. Pradhan are all the more aware. Although not a single college was found to be honest and strickly followed the UGC guidelines and norms, they aggressively defended the colleges on various grounds (or perhaps as a result of timely visits paid by the principals and the contractors).

In other words, a little malpractice here and there is not going to harm anybody. So the silent understanding is, "Know how to pray. Show some generosity, appease the fury of the destroyer and satisfy his appetite." As one principal has pointed out, "It is not books on Manipur that an expert from NAAC or UGC requires but something of value." There is nothing the power of prayer or offering cannot move.

Well, in addition to the inhumane chidings meted out to the principals, Prof. Pradhan also did a redeeming act. He disclosed his well-guarded place of station i.e. Guest House, Manipur University, and warned the principals to deliver the required documents to his room.

Just as Mahasen saw the floods of blood and storms of discontent in Manipur, thereby avoiding it so as not to cause any more misery to the people, the esteemed Professor and his team must be in a similar mood. Why trouble the poor souls (sic. principals and cliques) anymore? But uncertainty still prevails, what if, they strike anytime from today!

* Khingba Luwangcha wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is bookkeeper by occupation. He can be reached at khingba(at)rediffmail(dot)com
This article was posted on May 24, 2013.

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