|The Telegraph interview with Professor Amartya Sen
published on February 24
New Delhi, Feb. 28: The Union cabinet today agreed to provide Rs 2,727.10 crore to Nalanda University to meet its financial requirements till 2021-22 and extend tax exemptions to the institution which will ensure it enjoys international status.
The decision comes within days of an interview Chancellor Amartya Sen gave to The Telegraph in which he spoke out over bureaucratic hindrances that were holding up the funds. Sen, an economics Nobel laureate, had also raised concerns over attempts by some mandarins in the finance ministry to alter the international character of the institute by questioning the privileges to be accorded to the university and its staff.
The university, coming up near the site of the ancient seat of learning in Nalanda, about 100km from Patna, is scheduled to begin classes in autumn this year.
The cabinet had in June last year approved the Nalanda University (Amendment) Bill, 2013. After it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha, it was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee which submitted its report recently. The matter was again brought to the cabinet as the government wanted to accept a few suggestions of the committee.
The cabinet today approved expenditure of Rs 2,727.10 crore that would help the university meet its capital and recurring expenses till 2021-22. However, there is no clarity about the funding for the institution after 2021-22.
The university board of governors is confident the institute will become much more financially robust by 2021-22. The blueprint for Nalanda University envisages that it will fund at least 50 per cent of its expenditure itself by 2021 — through donations. This, Sen and others are arguing, shows that Nalanda will not be a permanent financial drain on the government.
Vice-chancellor Gopa Sabharwal expressed happiness over the cabinet’s decision for funding and bringing amendments to the Nalanda University Act. “The amendments approved have retained the international character of the university,” Sabharwal said.
A media statement issued by the Press Information Bureau said the preamble of the University Act would include that it is a “non-state, non-profit, self-governing international institution having academic freedom for attainment of these objectives”.
To further buttress the international stature of the institution, the cabinet also gave the go-ahead to the Headquarters Agreement, which has been signed between the ministry of external affairs and the Nalanda University for giving privileges and financial immunity like tax exemptions to the university and its staff. The agreement has been partly notified pending clearance from the cabinet.
Section 21 of the Nalanda University Act says members of all academic staff and their dependents shall enjoy privileges like exemption from taxation in respect to salaries, honoraria, allowances and other emoluments in connection with their services.
However, the central government had to enter into an agreement with Nalanda University to ensure such privileges are made available. The MEA had prepared a Headquarters Agreement in this regard which was signed in July last year.
Under this, the foreign academic staff will get appropriate visas and be exempt from foreigners’ registration.
The agreement said the foreign faculty and staff members will enjoy the freedom to maintain within India movable and immovable properties. They can purchase, hold or dispose of any currencies, securities and funds through authorised channels.
Such privileges are extended only to the personnel of other international organisations such as WHO, Unesco and Unicef.
The Act will have a provision to extend similar immunities to the university. This means the assets of the university and its income will be exempt from all direct taxes, customs duties and prohibition and restriction on imports and exports in respect of articles imported or exported by the university.
The amended bill will now be brought to Parliament for passage.