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Legal challenge to IIM fee-cut fiat

Feb. 10: A student and an alumnus of the Indian institutes of management today went to the Supreme Court, challenging the directive of Murli Manohar Joshi’s human resource development ministry to slash fees.

Saikat Sengupta, a second year student of IIM Ahmedabad, Anish Mathew, an IIM Bangalore alumnus, and Supreme Court advocate Sandeep Parekh filed a public interest litigation, seeking quashing of the February 5 order of the ministry, which ordered a cut in the annual fee at the six IIMs from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 30,000.

The petition contended that “the decision to reduce the fees was ill-conceived as it was based on irrelevant considerations like garnering votes and gaining control over the IIMs”.

The petition will come up for hearing next week, Parekh said.

From raising questions about the rationale for the reduction to attacking the minister for his moves aimed at “destroying” the autonomy of the institutes, the petition highlighted how Joshi was attempting to “steamroll rational opinions” and “impose his powerful will in the guise of implementing public policy”.

According to IIM sources, the legal twist is part of a bigger campaign against the directive. The institutes are yet to take a public stand as their respective governing boards have to first meet to discuss and pass or reject the order. It cannot be implemented without board clearance.

Eminent board members like Infosys’ .R. Narayana Murthy and Hindustan Lever’s M.S. Banga have openly criticised the directive.

“The government has the power to dissolve the board. But it can’t go against the court ruling and that’s why before officially challenging the ministry, the legal course has been taken. The move is co-ordinated by a very influential IIM Ahmedabad alumnus and we expect a few more PILs in the next couple of weeks,” said an IIM source.

But the petitioners said the decision to go to court was their own.

“We feel strongly about the issue and have filed the petition keeping in mind the interest of the existing students and those who will join the IIMs in the future,” said Mathew.

Mathew, who passed out of IIM Bangalore last year and is now employed in a business process outsourcing company in Chennai, said he studied with financial aid from the institute.

“My father is a retired man and I am surely not from the elite community. I am paying for my studies through a bank loan, but I have never felt the need for any fee cut,” said Sengupta, an IIT Delhi alumnus who joined IIM Ahmedabad after working for a year.

The institutes say the annual fee, at Rs 1.5 lakh, is only half of the actual cost.

The petition goes beyond contesting only the fee slash order. It pleads to the court to maintain the institutes’ administrative and academic autonomy, sanctity of the common admission test, which the ministry proposes to replace with its own national-level examination, and protect the teacher-student ratio.

“The risk of destroying these institutions, known worldwide for their excellence, was so great that unless the court intervened things would go out of control,” Parekh argued in the petition.

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