The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Joshi goes for IIMs’ jugular
- Offensive planned in court, CBI comes calling in Calcutta
Mukesh Ambani: Don’t meddle
M.M. Joshi: Adamant

March 12: Murli Manohar Joshi is turning up the heat on Indian institutes of management any which way possible.

As a Supreme Court order today was viewed in the human resource development ministry as an opportunity to wash, what it believes, some management dirty linen in public, IIM Calcutta was informed in the afternoon of an impending visit by sleuths of the CBI that is probing an alleged question paper leak.

The ministry and the institutes are locked in a battle over a Joshi-sponsored proposal to cut tuition fee to Rs 30,000 from Rs 1.5 lakh a year — the highest that is charged at IIM Ahmedabad, others cost less.

Behind the fee cut move, the IIMs smell a plot to make them dependent on government munificence and, therefore, vulnerable to interference.

Joshi has all along insisted that he has no intention to meddle in the running of the IIMs, but in the Supreme Court, additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for the ministry, did not give a written undertaking to the effect when it was sought by the judges. He prayed for time to consult his client.

Three petitioners, who had earlier moved the court against the fee cut measure unsuccessfully, appealed to the judges to incorporate a written government commitment in the order where they had disposed of their original plea.

The court had disposed of the public interest litigation after the government gave verbal undertakings that it would not infringe upon the IIMs’ autonomy as they would become more dependent for money after the fee cut and that it would “as and when necessary and to the extent necessary” make available funds to meet any shortfall.

The petitioners sought a direction from the court that the twin undertakings be placed on record in the order of the court, contending that if these were not given, the order upholding the fee reduction should be recalled.

Rohtagi questioned the very motive of the application, describing it as “mala fide”, which evoked a strong response from the petitioners’ counsel Harish Salve and triggered a verbal duel between the two.

The chief justice observed that “if the government gave the (written) undertaking not to interfere in the functioning (of the IIMs), the court would then clarify that any future litigation on the issue of interference in the autonomy would have to be agitated before appropriate forums as a separate litigation”.

The court gave the government a week to get back with its response while posting the matter for further hearing on March 19.

Ministry sources said the court case would give them an opportunity to widen the debate and shed light on facts that they expect would discredit IIM Ahmedabad, which has been in the forefront of the battle.

The ministry is arguing that IIMA had not been honouring the memorandum of association signed with the government. It has also not followed the proper procedure while revising fees in the past, the ministry says. These “facts”, the ministry believes, will now come out in court.

Indian industry, which draws its management talent from the IIMs and has representatives on their boards, does not appear to be siding with the ministry in the battle.

Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of India’s largest private sector company, Reliance Industries, said today the government should not reduce fees charged by the IIMs.

Speaking at an India Today conclave, he said banks were lending to IIM students and there was no shortage of funds. The government needs to get out of the way and let the market deliver, Ambani added.

Mahindra and Mahindra vice-chairman Anand Mahindra said India was capable of building 100 multinational companies if impediments such as excessive regulation and infrastructure bottlenecks were removed.

In Calcutta, it was revealed that a CBI team would visit the IIM campus on Monday to check computers that were used to prepare the question paper for the common entrance test for aspiring management students. The paper was allegedly leaked.

The fax message received by IIMC said the investigators would take the hard discs with them. A meeting of the academic council was convened and a resolution was passed that the institute would not allow the CBI to take the hard discs away. “How will one ensure that the discs won’t be tampered with after they are taken to Delhi' Besides, nothing has come out of the investigation yet. The CBI has even failed to file a chargesheet,” said an IIMC source.

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