Dr Same-Same Chatterjee
April 12: Identical portions of the texts of the 2014 doctoral thesis of Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee and earlier academic papers have prompted members of the academic community to raise suspicions about research misconduct.
Faculty and scholars familiar with the content of the thesis submitted to the North Bengal University say several of its chapters contain long verbatim extracts from papers by various authors without appropriate citations as required under academic protocols.
They are alleging that Chatterjee, the education minister since 2013-end, has set a poor example for students and scholars across the state.
Chatterjee had submitted his thesis, titled "Transforming Indian economy into knowledge economy: the role of human resources with reference to India", under the supervision of Prof. Anil Bhuimali in the NBU's department of economics.
Both Chatterjee and Bhuimali today asserted that the thesis had appropriately cited the sources of material used to write the document.
"There were references from 36 to 37 authors and I have acknowledged all the names in the citation," Chatterjee told The Telegraph in response to a question. "The university conferred the PhD degree on me. It has not brought any new laurels to me. If they want to take it away, let them take it but I want to know why this is being raised before the elections? I had appeared in the exam and scored 75 per cent. I did not take favours from anybody," he added.
A faculty member in a Calcutta-based institution, who has examined the thesis, said several chapters contained line-by-line extracts from earlier published papers, including documents available on the Internet, without any clarity on which portions are original and which have been copy-pasted from other sources.
Academicians who have analysed the thesis through plagiarism-detection software said portions of Chapters 5, 7 and 9 of the document contain extracts of text from various sources.
While the thesis cites some sources at the end of each chapter, they say the appropriate way of citing borrowed material would be to introduce references within the text, rather than listing the sources only at the end of each chapter.
"When you cite a source only at the end of the chapter, a reader doesn't know how much of the chapter is original material and how much is borrowed material," said a faculty member in Calcutta who requested not to be named.
Bhuimali, who was appointed vice-chancellor of Raiganj University in 2015, said it was his impression that all citations had been "properly done".
"There are various ways to write a PhD thesis. References of material cited can be given either within chapters or at the end of chapters. This PhD thesis was done according to the norms of the university, it was accepted and the degree was conferred," Bhuimali told this newspaper.
But those who have analysed the thesis point out the inadequacy of chapter-end citations and the absence of citations.
Chapter 7, for instance, has several paragraphs identical to that in a 2010 paper by Narendrasinh Chauhan and lists the Chauhan paper at the end of the chapter.
"This does not make it clear the extent of material borrowed," said a faculty member who has analysed the document.
Chapter 7 also contains text extracted from a 2004 paper by Surya Binayee from the Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources. But Binayee is not mentioned in the list of references at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 5 contains several paragraphs from a 2006 publication titled "ICT Applications in Aviation" by T.T. Wong of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. But the list of references at the end of the chapter does not mention the paper by Wong.
India's academic community has long been dogged by controversies involving plagiarism in academic institutions. Some researchers have in the past urged the central government to establish a watchdog to tackle the issue. At present, academic institutions are left to resolve issues on their own.
Some academicians have also questioned the appointment of Chatterjee's supervisor Bhuimali as vice-chancellor of Raiganj, claiming the move involved a conflict of interest.
But a senior faculty member at North Bengal University appeared outraged at the suggestion. "(Bhuimali) has been a respected professor for about a decade, he has published many articles and books and he deserved the position of vice-chancellor," the faculty member said.
Chatterjee said he did not sign the papers appointing Bhuimali as vice-chancellor. "I did what was required as a minister. He comes from a peasant family and he is the most famous name in North Bengal University. If you want to see him removed, remove him."