FATE OF RESEARCHERS IN GOA UNIVERSITY! Arrogance, nepotism, injustice?

A SAD LOOKING PROJECT ASSOCIATE-1 DIKANSH S PARMAR AT GOA UNIVERSITY… he got a letter terminating his services for some amazingly petty reasons! The hard-working Gujarati zoologist is now trying to seek a review of all the work he has done in the last one-and-half year and some justice. Elsewhere perched on his finger is the famous Goan Slender Gecko which was in the news recently, a find in which his team played a key role, working on a prestigious MoEF & CC project on diversity of herpetofauna in Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

By Tara Narayan

IT’S one of many horror stories one hears about the world of academia. But zoologist and Project Associate Dikansh S Parmar (of recent Goan Slender Gecko fame in the news) was not prepared for this and he is still trying to make up his mind whether to cry or laugh! He decided to open up and talk about it to see if he will find any justice in the haloed world of academia in Goa. Dikansh, in his 30s something, on first impression comes across as reticent, non-descript, stoic, he hails from Surat, Gujarat.
He joined Goa University from January 3 last year to work on a special three-year project to do with herpetofauna (the world of reptiles and amphibians which he enlightens is about mostly nocturnal animals). More specifically he is one of the project associates who had applied and was taken on in the Zoology department of Goa University, to be part of a Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climatic Change (MoEF & CC) project called “Diversity of herpetofauna of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka.”
Parmar loves his work as a zoologist and is a meticulously hard worker. All was well and then suddenly out of the blue he was served a letter terminating his services on the project (this was on April 8, 2021)! It came as a rude shock and is totally unjustified, he says. He acknowledges that his relationship with his boss, assistant professor Dr Nitin Sawant in the Department of Zoology at Goa University, had not been too happy. Perhaps this could be because of some suggestions Parmar had made to Dr Sawant about alleged malpractices in reseach and also about having a better equipped Animal House for the Zoology department at the Goa University campus.

IN FACT, Dr Sawant has tried to fix Parmar to justify the letter of termination served on him through false allegations. Says Dikansh Parmar, “He did not ask me for any clarifications or explanations but abruptly tried to serve me a termination letter. I have not accepted it to date. I have appealed for a review of my work but nothing is happening.” Dr Nitin Sawant is powerful and has reportedly warned Parmar against taking the matter out of Goa University, “He told me that I can do whatever I want but nothing will happen, everybody is his friend including registrar.” According to Parmar he had spoken to one-member committee comprising of Dr Santosh Tilve but Tilve told him that although he was justified in whatever he said there were no guidelines for students in Goa University – but now they will form guidelines to help other students, but not him!

IT was after much thinking that Parmar decided to speak up to recount his horrible experience. From whatever Parmar says here is a familiar story of exploitation, nepotism, corruption, unfair hitting below the belt or so to speak in the hallowed precincts of the Goa University. It has its own turns and twists of course. Parmar had not accepted the termination letter served to him on April 8 but approached Vice-Chancellor, Dean, Registrar, whoever else he could think of to appeal for justice and fair play.
He was part of a team on the three-year project and he is certainly qualified on the subject of reptiles and amphibians, otherwise why would they have hired him? In fact he was the leader of the team. But in his case this is perhaps the first instance in the world when a researcher who has helped discover a new species is rewarded by a letter terminating his services! The team was in the news a few weeks ago when a new species of lizard was discovered – the Goan Slender Gecko (it was reported both in local media as also in `ZooTaxa’ published on August 31, 2021, a publication from New Zealand).
From the sound of it Parmar has been rudely victimised by someone he had earlier hoped would be his PhD guide! But now he feels exploited, cheated and summarily dismissed. This he says modestly may be because he has more research papers in his cap of achievements than Dr Nitin Sawant, who is an influential man in Goa and not above taking his project staff for granted to use and abuse and especially on this project which still has another one-and-half years to go. Parmar has been unhappy and in a quandary about what to do next, especially because he is not from Goa but from Gujarat.

Pathetic snake house at Goa University’s campus for research students!

WHY hasn’t he appealed for an enquiry to be conducted? He has appealed to HOD of Zoology (Ram Bhalla Roy), Assistant Registrar, Vice-Chancellor (Varun Sahni), even the governor and chief minister — but nothing has come out of it. Maybe something good will happen, he is lost now, “I had joined this project on January 3, 2020 as junior project fellow and was posted as project associate-1 on a salary of Rs16,000 which is now Rs31,000…but I have not been paid since January this year.” Allegedly Dr Nitin Sawant has been trying to get rid of him on petty trumped up charges, “He made me do fieldwork for one-and-half years day and night in the sun, rains, and winters but recently he even trapped me in the Netravali wildlife sanctuary and said RFO (Bipin Phal Dessai who is a friend of Dr Nitin) that I am not aware of this fieldwork but he forgot that he WhatsApp me to go for fieldwork…”
At first Parmar didn’t know what to do but he decided he may be an outsider in Goa and from Gujarat but he is not going to be bullied with such nepotism. Confides the traumatised zoologist, “I have written even to Prime Minister’s Office. At one time in Surat the PM had released a book on snakes called `Sarap Sandharp’ in which 90% of the work was mine, photographs, etc…”
Perhaps someone has taken note of the injustice done to him at Goa University. At least the pressure on him to leave campus and hostel room has eased until the matter is resolved. Listening to zoologist Dilkansh Parmar makes one realize that nepotism happens all the time in the world of academia. Perhaps it happens more so in Goa University where this is the not the first time a faculty member has complained bitterly of corruption, exploitation, real meanness.
Parmar’s credentials are fine and no one can finger him for not knowing his work, “I have done more research papers than even Dr Nitin Sawant! I have 18 to 19 research papers all done 2016 onwards…while Nitin sir has only three and two more papers courtesy our team work at the Goa University!”
Parmar accuses Dr Nitin Sawant of not only being a pliagarist, “but I saw how he wanted to attach his wife’s name on to research papers although she had done none of the research, he wanted to give authorship to his wife (Trupti Jadav) because of promotion reasons….” He shrugged, “Sometime I had suggested to Dr Sawant that some procedures should be better corrected. For instance, I requested better cages be purchased to house the snakes collection at our Animal House because the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant was coming to visit…. during that time a spectacled cobra had escaped. They had to look for me to collect the cobra and put it back in these totally inappropriate and dangerous netted aquariums in which snakes get stuck and injure themselves trying to get out.” On one occasion Dr Sawant made him remove all his clothes from his own suitcase and pack a snake in it!
Perhaps it’s all the little things (or not so little if you think about it) which Parmar suggested which annoyed his boss. And so Dr Nitin Sawant tried to drop him from the project and slapped him with a letter terminating his services. Dr Sawant taunted him that if he dared to take any matter out of the university room, he would live to regret it. After the shock wore off Parmar decided to protest anyway by seeking a few appointments to relate his grievances, most of which were ignored.
But he says, at least Dean PK Sharma of Life Sciences (Goa University) had privately sympathized with him and told him, “I have investigated the matter against you and you have a clean record. But I am sorry I cannot do anything for you as far as Dr Nitin Sawant is concerned because they have not included me in this matter!” Vice-Chancellor Varun Sahni was retiring did bother to meet him through five months since March this year, the new vice-chancellor is not meeting him either. He has also sought a meeting with Governor Pillai but is still waiting.

Dikansh Parmar in happier times… discovering new species in Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries, his first love, he says, are reptiles and amphibians and that would be the subject of his PhD next in Goa or elsewhere where there is a level playing field in the world of academia.

A LAST question just to cheer up the morose looking Dikansh S Parmar: What’s so great about studying snakes anyway? To this sudden query the zoologist replied, “Do you know that we study snakes by the number of scales and teeth…a python for example has 150 teeth set in a ring formation!” Fascinating! Dikansh is not going to slink away quietly. For once justice should not only be seen to be done but his job as project associate should be restored honourably. He should also be compensated financially for he has been living on his savings and with dead pan humor he asked, “Do you think I should join Swiggy part time to earn money? I have brought my own scooter to serve me as conveyance, otherwise Goa is too expensive!”
A query to which one could only respond, Yes, by all means join Swiggy. There’re a lot of overqualified professionals like him earning a fortune delivering food orders from here to there! Swiggy and Zomato bosses may better appreciate him if he tells them he is a zoologist who understands reptiles and amphibians and can handle snakes expertly.

“Dr Nitin Sawant is continuously harassing me and pressuring me to resign from the project, he was saying that he is surrendering the project so he wants my resignation, why should I resign because of his inability to handle the project. He gave me following reasons for surrendering the project: (1) That is wife is not at home. (2) That he had not seen his son for the past four days. (3) That he has a knee problem. (4) That he is suffering from blood pressure. (5) That he has been much tasked being appointed in many committees. (6) That he had taken two female students as interns and that they will not be able to carry out fieldwork, and ((7) that shortly his student Shri Gangadhar Tambre (my colleague in the project) was leaving the project to proceeding to the UK.’
— quoting from a letter written by zoologist Dikansh S Parmar to various authorities so that he may be vindicated and his job restored to him

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