New Delhi: A new centre for disaster research at the Jawaharlal Nehru University began admitting students last year. But already those associated with the centre feel it’s headed for disaster — thanks to some teachers that have been appointed to it.
One of the various allegations levelled at JNU vice-chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar by students and teachers alike has been tweaking rules and showing disregard for qualifications in faculty appointments.
At the Special Centre for Disaster Research (SCDR), the JNU administration has allegedly appointed three faculty members who don’t have a background in disaster studies or research. This is despite the availability of candidates trained in the subject, sources told ThePrint.
Other faculty members and scholars associated with the SCDR have written to university chancellor V.K. Saraswat, asking for his intervention. One such email accessed by ThePrint points out the discrepancies in appointment and says the “centre is in crisis”, just like “the rest of JNU”, and needs “serious intervention”.
The problem with the appointments
The SCDR had three sanctioned posts from the University Grants Commission for the first batch of MA/PhD students, and teachers were needed in three core areas related to disaster research — disaster law and governance; vulnerable communities — gender, disability, poverty, caste; and GIS/geospatial sciences.
JNU has appointed Abhijeet Dwivedi, Deep Narayan Pandey and Nikunj Makwana to teach the respective subjects.
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JNU’s official advertisement stated that the person who would teach disaster law needed to be a PhD in this specific subject, and have desirable experience of comparative case studies, emergency governance and judicial responses to disasters. For teaching ‘vulnerable communities’, the necessary qualification was a PhD, preferably in governance, with field experience of working with vulnerable rural communities affected by environmental changes. For teaching GIS, the university was seeking someone with a PhD in geography/geospatial sciences, and preferable field experience of studies on disaster-affected remote regions in the country.
However, official email exchanges between the SCDR and JNU administration, accessed by ThePrint, show that none of the three appointees is from the specialisations mentioned. Dwivedi is a PhD scholar from corporate and company law; Pandey, hired to teach the subject on vulnerable communities, has done his research on transportation in the African country Ethiopia; while Makwana, a scholar in community medicine, has been hired for teaching GIS/geospatial sciences.
‘Qualified candidates were ignored’
Emails sent by faculty members to Saraswat claimed that 270 candidates sat for the interview, including 20-30 who were already trained in disaster research, but none of them were selected. Among the applicants for the GIS position, there were some who had extensive work in the relevant field, but they weren’t chosen either.
The qualified candidates also complained to the JNU V-C and its chancellor about their non-selection. One candidate, who has worked in the field of disaster research for 15 years, sought a review of the candidature in an email to Saraswat, which has been accessed by ThePrint. However, the candidate alleged that there was no response.
A senior professor at the SCDR alleged: “There was blatant disregard for qualification and specialisation. The V-C only appointed his own hand-picked people, who, we have heard, have their association with the ABVP and the RSS. People who were already trained in disaster research also sat for the interview, but they were ignored outright.”
The faculty member claimed two candidates selected as assistant professors have yet to submit their PhD, and are “nowhere even close to it”.
Another faculty member alleged: “It is a specialised centre and needs people who have the expertise required in the domain, but all this was blatantly ignored by the V-C and the selection committee, which appointed some hand-picked people. A list of the selected people was already doing the rounds in hostels even before the official announcement was made… This proves that the interview and selection process is a sham.”
Appointees’ defence, administration’s silence
ThePrint contacted all three appointees for their response to these allegations. While Dwivedi said he had “nothing to say”, Makwana asserted he is qualified for the post.
“I am qualified in medicine, and if a disaster comes, medical help is the first thing needed,” Makwana said.
Pandey, meanwhile, questioned those making the allegations. “I am aware of the allegations against me… People who are raising these objections were in the selection committee themselves, why did they select me then? Also, I have enough experience of disaster handling,” he said.
Neither JNU V-C Jagadesh Kumar nor Registrar Pramod Kumar responded to ThePrint’s queries through calls, emails or text messages.
ThePrint also reached Saraswat through email, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
(A previous version of this report wrongly identified one of the three newly appointed teachers as Abhishek Dwivedi. He is Abhijeet Dwivedi. The error is regretted.)
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