IIT Delhi vs HRD ministry: Mauritius probe, resignation sparks claims of BJP politicking

IIT Delhi Director Raghunath K S Shevgaonkar's resignation, nearly two years ahead of his tenure completion, has triggered a new controversy for the Human Resources Development(HRD) Ministry.

FP Staff December 30, 2014 14:33:26 IST
IIT Delhi vs HRD ministry: Mauritius probe, resignation sparks claims of BJP politicking

IIT Delhi Director Raghunath K S Shevgaonkar's resignation, nearly two years ahead of  the end of his tenure, has triggered a new controversy for the Human Resources Development(HRD) Ministry.  Shevgaonkar sent his resignation in a letter to Chairman of IIT Board of Governors Vijay P Bhatkar on Friday evening in which he cited “personal reasons” as the reason for quitting from the post.

The controversy began when it was first reported that the director quit because he didn't want to give in to two demands that were made on him. The first: to provide the IIT grounds for a cricket academy that Sachin Tendulkar supposedly wanted to open; the second: to pay nearly Rs 70 lakh to former IIT-D faculty and now BJP leader Subramanian Swamy as his “salary dues” between 1972 and 1981.

Times of India hastily withdrew the Tendulkar claim soon after he expressed his anguish on Twitter, claiming that he had no plan to begin any kind of academy. Swamy also rejected any connection between his case and Shevgaonkar's resignation.

Now news reports claim that his resignation is linked instead to a Human Resources and Development Ministry probe into IIT's Mauritius campus which was opened under an MoU signed with the country's government.  Officials said a one-man inquiry has been set up about one and a half months back to inquire into legality of the MoU with Mauritius when the ministry came across the MoU as it "violated the IIT Act", adds a PTI report.

HRD ministry officials, however, maintain that there was no pressure on R Shevgaonkar to resign as IIT Delhi Director and that his resignation has not yet been accepted. "The HRD Ministry has neither forwarded Subramanian Swamy's request to IIT-Delhi nor given any direction to make payment of arrears to Swamy. Views of DoPT and Finance Ministry have been sought on the matter," said the  ministry's statement which was issued after HRD minister Smriti Irani convened a meeting to discuss Shevgaonkar's resignation.

IIT Delhi vs HRD ministry Mauritius probe resignation sparks claims of BJP politicking

Indian Institute of Technology. Agencies

The  MoU, which was signed under the UPA government, and the IIT-D director's resignation has triggered a public war  of words between the institute and the ministry.

According to an Economic Times report, senior HRD ministry officials "continued to insist that the MoU was illegal" because of the IIT Act, which does not allow any institute to set up an offshore campus.

In 2004, the HRD Ministry had relaxed its rules to allow IITs and Central Universities to enter into MoU's with institutes abroad for collaboration over research but it did not extend beyond that, say  ministry officials.

IIT-Delhi issued a statement by the acting registrar which said the campus in Mauritius is not an "extension campus of IIT-D" but an independent research academy named 'International Institute of Technology Research Academy' (IITRA).

"IIT-D's role is only advisory in nature," it said.

The statement added that the original proposal to start International Institute of Technology Delhi Research Academy was initiated on the recommendation of the IIT Council on January 21, 2011 but its nomenclature was later changed to IITRA on the advice of the HRD Ministry. "The final MoU was okayed by HRD Ministry and it was signed in the presence of the then HRD Minister on November 19, 2013 in Mauritius," the IIT statement said.

The IIT statement cites an exchange of letters between the Ministries of HRD and External Affairs, and letters of support sent by the then HRD Minister and under secretary to the joint secretary in the HRD Ministry on June 15, 2011. According to the Indian Express, "IIT-Delhi also sent a communication to the HRD Ministry, with a detailed sequence of events supported by 10 annexures on the MoU."

The linking of the Mauritius probe to Shevgaonkar's resignation has sparked outrage in the IIT-Delhi community, which has rallied around the director.

The IIT-D Alumni Association expressed unhappiness at this whole mess and support for the director. President of the Alumni Association Ashok Kumar said, “The whole of IIT-Delhi alumni committee is with the Director." The IIT Delhi Alumni Association also adopted a resolution where it cautioned the Ministry against interfering in the autonomy of the IIT system to enable it to function "smoothly". "It is further resolved that IIT Delhi Alumni Association is fully behind the Director and request him to continue leading this illustrious institution to greater heights," it said.

Chairman of IIT-Delhi's board of governor Vijay Bhatkar also defended the Shevgaonkar, and the MoU. He told Economic Times, "There is nothing illegal about the Mauritius academy... Shevgaonkar is an outstanding academician, excellent researcher and a good administrator. As a person, I know him since his vice-chancellor days in Pune. He is always smiling and a very positive person."

The HRD ministry, however, is also showing no signs of backing down. The government insists that it is only probing the illegality of an earlier MoU. Given that the Mauritius deal was approved by the UPA government in 2013 when Pallam Raju was HRD minister, there are already signs that the director's resignation is going to turn into an ugly political row. DNA wades into murkier waters, reporting:

'However academicians feel that Sevagaokar is not alone to be blamed for violating the IIT Act. Some feel he is being targeted for sharing proximity with the Congress. The IIT director wrote speeches for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. IIT board and the then HRD minister was aware of the MoU. So why is the director being pressurised," said an academician.'

On the other hand, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal has been quick to express his sadness at Shevgaonkar's resignation, and asked if the IITs' autonomy is being undermined. None of this is surprising since it is election season in Delhi, which means the controversy is not going to end any time soon. But whatever the merits of the case, it isn't good news for the HRD ministry which finds itself mired in yet another controversy that promises to be every bit as heated as the Sanskrit row.

With inputs from PTI

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