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Political leash off IITs in 'silent but massive' shift

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI in Delhi
  • Published 27.07.09
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New Delhi, July 27: Playing God isn’t always fun — at least for the human resource development ministry.

The HRD ministry has quietly withdrawn from its long-held role of ultimate arbiter in internal disputes of IITs, tired of handling an increasing number of complaints against institute administrators levelled by students and faculty.

The ministry has instead set up a new grievance redress committee chaired by Dr R. Chidambaram, a member of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Committee, to resolve all internal disputes between members of the IIT community.

The higher education department secretary will now forward all IIT-related allegations, complaints or pleas made by students, faculty or other members of the staff to this panel, top IIT officials told The Telegraph.

The committee also has chairmen of the boards of governors of IIT Delhi (V.S. Ramamurthy) and IIT Kanpur (M. Anandakrishnan) as members, sources said. Chidambaram is also a member of the IIT council, the highest decision-making body of the Indian Institutes of Technology.

“It is a silent but massive shift in the functioning of the IITs. No longer will India’s apex engineering schools be hostage to the political whims and fancies of the ministry on issues that can easily be sorted out by the institutes themselves,” an IIT director said.

Ministry sources confirmed that they receive — almost every day — complaints from aggrieved IIT students or staff members, demanding the government’s intervention.

Invariably, the ministry first forwards the representation to the concerned IIT for a response. Once it receives the response though, the final decision on the complaint is often coloured with politics, IIT officials allege.

IIT administrators cite the recent spate of cases of students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes asked to leave by institutes allegedly on the ground of poor performance.

These students — the cases involved IIT Delhi and IIT Kharagpur — approached the ministry alleging caste discrimination as the reason they were asked to leave. Then HRD minister Arjun Singh met the students and assured them they would be taken back. The IITs didn’t agree, but “there was intense pressure”, an official said.

In another instance late last year, the HRD ministry received an appeal from a student of IIT Guwahati filmed on a camera phone boasting that he had leaked an internal examination paper. The student had been asked to leave by the IIT and wanted the ministry to intervene.

“Invariably, these incidents give ministry officials, and the minister himself, an opportunity to harass a director or administration he is unhappy with, or at the very least play God on an issue generally concerning simply the rules of the institute,” a former IIT director said on the condition of anonymity.

But the ministry’s decision to withdraw from internal IIT disputes could also effectively end hopes of genuine victims of administrative bias receiving intervention from the government, a Delhi IIT student asked to leave last year said.

“This may lead to a scenario where victims of biased administrative decisions have no realistic hope that their voice will be heard. The members of the grievance redressal panel are a part of the administration themselves. I am not casting aspersions on individuals, but I fear they will be loaded in their views in favour of the administration,” the student argued.

Concurring with the student’s concerns, a senior IIT Bombay faculty member argued that members of the IIT community would be more susceptible to bias against or for fellow IITians than ministry officials.

“There is greater chance of conflict of interest in the new grievance redressal mechanism than now,” the professor said.