The vice-principal of a south Mumbai college said, “Even though only 50% staff is present in college every day, we have to travel by local transport daily and that is proving to be a big problem. Several teaching and non-teaching staff members across colleges have reported ill and a growing number are testing positive for Covid.”
Owing to a surge in Covid cases, the Maharashtra government on January 5 decided to shut down offline classes in state colleges and universities till February 15. State higher and technical education minister Uday Samant said that examinations scheduled till February 15 will either be postponed or conducted online, except for three universities — Gondwana, Jalgaon and Nanded — where power supply is an issue. The state government also decided to allow only 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff to attend colleges and universities on a rotational basis. The announcement was followed by a government resolution (GR) on January 7 as well as an official notification from the Mumbai University addressed to all affiliated colleges to clarify rules and regulations.
On January 8, the state disaster management department released standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed by different sectors including schools and colleges, which mentioned that schools and colleges have to remain shut except for Classes 10 and 12 and other administrative activities.
A senior professor at a suburban college said, “The Mumbai University is only following what the government notification of January 7 says, and insisting on 50% attendance of teaching and non-teaching staff whereas they have completely ignored the January 8 notification. This is putting the lives of several teachers and their families at risk as they are forced to travel by local transport.” He added that in his department alone, four out of seven teachers are currently down with Covid. “Instead of aiding the education sector, such harsh rules are leaving colleges with weaker manpower to run regular classes at present,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues have reached out to university authorities for urgent intervention in this matter but to no avail. While several teachers’ unions have received a series of complaints from teachers across the state, most of whom are facing the same dilemma, no official letter has reached the state government or universities as yet.
“The situation is getting worse with every passing day as more and more teachers and college staff are testing positive, and we hope that the government is taking stock of the situation and should announce stricter rules soon,” said a member of the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU).
However, officials at the University of Mumbai said that colleges’ rules and regulations in both the January 7 and 8 notifications are similar. “The physical office has been kept running to ensure regular college and administrative work goes smoothly even though lectures are getting conducted online. If classes can be conducted online, the college can take a call and decide whether teachers need to be present on campus or not,” said an official from the MU.