Hours after the Punjab and Haryana high court vacated its 2016 stay order allowing five-year extension in retirement age to Panjab University (PU) faculty, the varsity on Thursday evening relieved 58 faculty members.
Retirement age at PU is 60, but the faculty members were getting five-year extension with pay protection and other facilities on the back of the 2016 HC order.
The stay was vacated by the HC bench of justice GS Sandhawalia and justice Jagmohan Bansal on September 19. The order was released on Thursday afternoon.
A group of teachers had first approached HC in 2014, seeking increase in retirement age from 60 to 65 years as allowed in central government universities and institutions like IITs.
The plea was dismissed by a single judge bench on August 16, 2016, after the central government told the court that PU was not a central university.
However, through an interim order in September 2016, a division bench stayed the single judge order and allowed teachers to work up to 65 years.
Notably, while the initial order benefitted 45 teachers, through additional appeals, 130 odd teachers have been able to work till 65 over the past six years.
Taking up the matter again on September 19, the division bench observed that the September 2016 stay was passed while noting that the varsity will face acute shortage of faculty amid the ongoing academic session.
While vacating the interim order, the court admitted the case for further hearing in January 2023. The court clarified that in case the appeals of retiring teachers are allowed in future, they could always be compensated financially, whereas if they continue to work, it practically amounted to allowing the appeals.
The court also took note of another litigation pending before HC, in which a single judge bench had directed the central government to take a decision on converting PU into a central university. While the government is yet to officially submit its response before HC, it has made it clear that PU’s status as inter-state body corporate cannot be altered.
The development comes at a time when the varsity is preparing for the next round of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) accreditation.
President of the Panjab University Teachers’ Association (PUTA), Mritunjay Kumar, said the HC order will certainly impact academics at the university. “We will appeal to the university authorities to re-employ the relieved teachers in the interest of the university, especially in light of the upcoming NAAC accreditation. The university should also vehemently pursue the matter of enhancing the retirement age with the central government,” he said.
Dent in student-teacher ratio
With the varsity handing out relieving orders to 58 faculty members in view of the HC order, its regular faculty strength is now down to around 580 that will further affect the student-teacher ratio. The shortfall of teachers, which was primarily in assistant and associate professors’ categories, will be seen in the category of professors as well.
Though there are 1,378 sanctioned positions at PU, no recruitment has taken place since 2014, even as the UGC norms mandate a student-teacher ratio of 10:1 at the post graduation level and 25:1 at the graduation level. The education ministry, earlier this year, had given the green signal to PU to recruit teachers, but without any additional financial commitment.
Retirement age to stay 60
Following the HC order, the retirement age at PU will remain 60 years, with no room for extension. Some years back, PU had proposed to change the regulations regarding the retirement age before the central government, but a nod is pending. Since the implementation of central services rules in Chandigarh, the retirement age at city’s government colleges has increased to 65 years, also matched by Punjab Engineering College (PEC). But the benefit has not been extended to the university due to the inter-state body corporate status.
Varsity can re-employ teachers
As per regulations, the varsity can re-employ the retired teachers up to five more years. The salary paid to a re-employed teacher is equal to the last salary drawn, minus the pension. But the house rent allowance (HRA) is half and dearness allowance (DA) is restored only after three years. A re-employed teacher also cannot hold any administrative position and cannot be allotted a house on the campus. All these benefits were being extended to those getting extension in view of September 2016 interim order. The varsity, however, has not made any announcement whether re-employment will be given to the teachers relieved on Thursday. The affected teachers are expected to move Supreme Court on Friday.