Inflated peace process budget hits oldest university
OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, July 13: The larger-than-expected number of former Maoist combatants preferring voluntary retirement over integration into Nepal Army (NA), which inflated the state´s liability, seems to have taken its toll on Nepal´s oldest university.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has failed to allocate an additional Rs 830 million to the Tribhuvan University (TU) -- necessitated by a hike in government employees´ salaries -- eventually forcing all teachers into announcing a two-day pen down from Thursday. All the 38 constituent colleges of the TU remained shut in the Valley on Thursday due to the strike.
“It´s just a symbolic protest,” said Yogendra Narayan Barbariya, President of the Tribhuvan University Teachers Association (TUTA). “We will intensify our protests if we don´t get our raised salaries.” Barbariya threatened to close down all 61 constituent TU colleges and disrupt diploma exams next month if their demands are not met. Tribhuvan University Employees´ Association (TUEA), which expressed solidarity with TUTA´s pen-down, has also warned of a separate protest if their demands remain unmet.
According to TU Rector Gunnidhi Neupane, the country´s largest university has received only Rs 120 million for its 15,094 employees. “The UGC should´ve constantly followed up with the Ministry of Finance (MoF) for additional budget,” says Neupane. “As the UGC didn´t press MoF for the additional budget, we have got very little budget at the fiscal year´s end. It´s just like a drop in the ocean.”
UGC has been providing over Rs 3.5 million to TU every year. As then Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari raised government employees´ salaries in his budget speech last year, TU also got automatically entitled to a whopping additional budget. However, MoF has yet not provided adequate budget to offset the TU´s increased liability.
At a meeting between officials of TU,UGC and representatives of the agitating TUTA on Thursday, Finance Minister Barshaman Pun singled out the state´s liability for providing cash incentives to the larger-than-expected number of former Maoist combatants as the main reason behind MoF´s failure in allocating additional budget to TU via UGC.
“We had to manage more money than we previously expected for Maoist combatants choosing voluntary retirement,” an official present at the meeting quoted FM Pun as saying. “Otherwise, we could have managed to allocate the necessary additional budget on time.”
As part of the peace process, altogether 13,953 out of the total 17,076 combatants preferred voluntary retirement, overburdening the MoF with an additional Rs 2 billion. Initially, MoF had estimated around Rs 5.75 billion for voluntary retirement of the combatants.