Madras Uni staff fear non-payment of salaries, go on hunger strike over frozen FDs

On February 6, the IT department froze 37 fixed deposit accounts of the University citing unpaid tax dues.
Staff of the University of Madras, sitting on a hunger strike.
Staff of the University of Madras, sitting on a hunger strike.
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Both the teaching and non-teaching staff of the University of Madras (UoM), employed on a temporary as well as permanent basis, sat on a hunger strike from 10 am at the University’s Chennai campus in Chepauk on Friday, February 23. They had announced the strike on Thursday itself citing that the Income Tax Department has frozen 37 fixed deposit accounts of the UoM for unpaid tax dues. As a result, several guest lecturers, sanitary workers, and security guards, among others have been unpaid for January. The full-time teaching and non-teaching staff are now afraid that they will not be paid for February as well. 

Sundhar, a professor from the Department of History, told the media at the protest that they want the state government to take immediate steps to resolve the issue. “Ideally, the university should receive funds from the government since UoM is a government university. However, the funds that the government has been releasing have been deficit in the last six to seven years. On top of this, the university now has to pay Rs 424 crore as tax and penalties,” he said.

Several students also joined the protest to show their support and bring this matter to the attention of the state government. One of the students named Vimala (name changed) told TNM that residential students have several challenges that they are afraid of having to face if this problem is not resolved. “The university might not be able to even pay our electricity and water bills this month because of the IT department’s intervention. As such, classes have been disturbed because teachers are protesting,” she said.

Earlier on Thursday at a press conference, representatives of the Teachers and Staff Welfare Associations had also claimed that they had proof of tax returns filed by the University and that they would submit it to the IT department through an auditor. Sundhar corroborated this and said that it has now been duly submitted. 

Speaking to TNM, Maya Kannan, General Secretary of SC/ST Employees Welfare Association, said, “The IT department should have given space to discuss with stakeholders before making such a drastic decision all of a sudden.” When asked whether they had brought the matter before Governor RN Ravi, the de facto chancellor of government-run universities, the Association members responded that they wanted to bring this matter before the state government first. 

As per the notice issued by the IT department to the State Bank of India (SBI) branch in the university’s Chepauk campus, the UoM has to pay Rs 424 crore in tax and penalties, due for assessment years 2017-2018 to 220-2021. Earlier this month, the cheques that were issued by the University had bounced. 

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