P.N. Sharma (name changed on request), an employee with a private firm, is worried sick about his son’s future. Ranjan, 19, is currently enrolled with a private engineering college affiliated to Visva-Bharati for a bachelor’s programme in computer science. “I learnt from newspaper reports that there is confusion about the validity of the degree. Should I shift him to another institute'” wonders Sharma, who has already spent more than Rs 1 lakh on his son’s tech education.
Sharma is not alone. The cloud of confusion that shrouds the Santiniketan-based university’s power to grant affiliation and approval to institutes has raised similar doubts in the minds of hundreds of parents who admitted their children to such tech schools. With the ministry of human resources development (MHRD) directing the university to dissociate itself from the 20-odd institutes, enrolling around 5,000 students, the affiliation drama has now taken a political turn.
Congress member of Parliament Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has dashed off a letter to Arjun Singh, chairman, standing committee of Parliament on human resources, highlighting the “impasse created by the minister of HRD by asking Visva-Bharati to withdraw recognition to all its approved associate institutions of higher learning which impart education on management, IT and other related subjects”.
Throwing his weight behind the university, set up by Rabindranath Tagore, Das Munshi writes: “We are convinced that Visva-Bharati University is within its legal power to grant approval to such institutions…” Blasting the Murli Manohar Joshi ministry, the letter states: “MHRD is misinterpreting the Visva-Bharati Act and is acting without jurisdiction...”. Das Munshi also accuses Joshi of going back on his own word after admitting in the Rajya Sabha on April 27, 2001, that the university was “competent” to grant approval to these institutes. The Congress (I) chief whip in Parliament urges Arjun Singh to ensure “sanctity” of Visva-Bharati and send a team to Santiniketan to study the matter.
The Das Munshi letter is a follow-up of the showcause notice that the MHRD served on the university late last year, asking it to explain why the degrees awarded by the 40 institutes approved by Visva-Bharati should not be “annulled for being violative of the University’s Ordinance of July 1997”.
The University defended its position and said it had not violated any “act, statute, Ordinance and regulations” and its action was in confirmation with what “Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore wished about Visva-Bharati and what has been mentioned in Section 5A and 5B of the University Act”.
A Visva-Bharati spokesperson said on Friday: “The confusion has been created by the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). According to the Visva-Bharati Act, we have the power to grant affiliation and approval to institutes. It’s true that the MHRD has asked us to dissociate with the affiliates, but we are in constant dialogue with them to work out a solution, as the issue involves the future of so many students.”
The AICTE has adopted a hard line. “We are discussing with the government how to initiate some action against Visva-Bharati, but we will surely try to keep the interest of the students in mind,” an AICTE official said from Delhi.
The rights row has also reached the courtroom, with 11 affiliate institutes pleading with the MHRD, AICTE and Visva-Bharati for “status quo” till the expiry of their respective MoUs with the university. “Alipore court has granted an interim injunction and set the next hearing for July,” said a board member of a city-based institute affiliated to Visva-Bharati.