Punjab’s higher education department could well be an assembly line of the state’s “universities factory”. In brazen attempts to favour private bodies opening universities in Punjab, the department worked with uncharacteristic alacrity in the past five years.
UNIVERSITY CREATED WITH MAGIC WAND
The first, and only, inspection for the creation of Guru Kashi University, Talwandi Sabo, was carried out on April 7, 2011. The letter of intent (LOI) was issued to the Balaji Educational Trust (the private body creating the university) on May 19. Interestingly, the Trust submitted a compliance report of the conditions laid down in the LOI within 24 hours--a new record for the education department. In just a day, the Trust had completed requirements of the total constructed area, books, equipment and even managed to procure no-objection certificates from various agencies.
The department, bending over backwards to oblige the Trust, allowed it to get away with not creating an endowment fund, settling instead for an undertaking.
The department cleared the case within days of the compliance report being received and an exemption from the second inspection was given by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. The cabinet approved the setting up of the university on July 19, 2011.
When the minutes of the cabinet were ready, principal secretary, higher education, noted on the file: PSCM, (principal secretary, chief minister) desired over telephone yesterday evening and today morning that file for issuing ordinance be put up today positively.” (see grab dated 27.7.2011)
The cabinet met again a week later, to approve the ordinance, which was promulgated on September 12. Ten days later, the case for the university act was moved and the bill was passed in the Punjab Assembly on October 9, less than a month after the ordinance was promulgated. In November, the department woke up to the fact that the university had still not created the endowment fund.
10 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE? BUT WHO NEEDS IT?
In the case of Akal University, Talwandi Sabo, created by Kalgidhar Society that runs the Baru Sahib School in Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh, the condition of 10-year experience in teaching higher education courses (post-Class 12) was not fulfilled. The Society had started an engineering college in 2007 and a nursing college in 2008. “These prerequisites are not enough for the Society to be granted permission to start a university in Punjab,” stated the office note put up on February 16, 2011. (see grab)
Some months later however, another note was put up, saying the Society was running a music school since 1990, offering “sangeet praveen” and “sangeet prabhakar” courses “equivalent” to bachelor and master degrees, hence the requirement of 10 years’ experience is met.
No objection was raised by any officer on this note, pointing out since the proposed university intended to impart technical education like engineering and nursing, the Society should have the requisite years of experience in technical education. On September 22, 2011, the highpowered committee chaired by the Punjab chief secretary cleared the proposal without raising an eyebrow. The letter of intent was issued October 4.
GOVERNMENT IGNORED GOVERNOR’S OBJECTION
Sant Baba Bhag Singh University, Jalandhar, was to be created through an ordinance when the Punjab governor sent the proposal back to the Badal government on December 1, 2014, asking it to explain what was the urgency of promulgating an ordinance. Interestingly, the higher education department explained to the governor that the proposed university had already “delinked” itself from Punjab Technical University (hoping to become a university itself) and would not be able to admit students if the ordinance was not passed. Also, explained the department, since the private body had spent a lot to create the university not passing the ordinance would cause it financial loss.
The third reason given for rushing the ordinance was even better. “The government has earlier passed ordinances for the creation of DAV University and Desh Bhagat University so it is essential that an ordinance be passed in this case as well.”
The chief minister’s second request was acceded to and the ordinance promulgated on December 18. Three days later, on December 21, the cabinet approved the conversion of the ordinance into a bill for the Assembly, which was passed on December 24. The ordinance was thus promulgated for seven days flat!
SUKHBIR LAID FOUNDATION STONE, SO BEND THE RULES
Kalgidhar Society’s Akal University was to set up an endowment fund of Rs 5 crore with the government within two months of the issuance of the LOI on October 4, 2011. However, the fund was not set up despite reminders and the rule that says that the LOI should be immediately cancelled. No action was taken against the society, which chose to reply to the reminders in June 2013, asking for various relaxations while pointing out that the foundation stone of the university building was laid by Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
INSPECT US, SAYS UNIVERSITY, NO NEED, SAYS GOVT
The state government exempted DAV University, Jalandhar, from a second inspection despite a complaint to the governor of crores being exchanged between the private body creating the university and education department officials. In a detailed reply to the complaint on September 24, 2012, the private body offered to undergo a second inspection but the department refused to do so. The next day’s office note said: “Since a second inspection has not been done in the cases of Chitkara University, Guru Kashi University, Adesh University and Chandigarh University. Hence, there is no need for one in this case.” (see grab dated 25.9.2012)
ME TOO! LEGAL REMEMBRANCER IN VARSITY GOVERNING BODY
In the case of DAV University, Jalandhar, interestingly at one point on the file, the legal remembrancer (LR) was added as a member of the governing body in violation of rules. The LR even got veto powers in the decisions of the governing body. The addition was noted by SK Sandhu, principal secretary to the chief minister, who then got the clause removed. A note was prepared on August 29, 2012, and the LR was asked to change the Act, removing himself from the governing body. (see grab dated 29.8.2012)
OTHERS WRONGLY CLEARED, SO WHY NOT US?
S Amar Singh Educational Charitable Trust, which went on to set up GNA University, Phagwara was initially refused LOI on the basis that it did not have the requisite 10-year experience in running higher educational institutions.
In response, an angry member of the management wrote back to the education department on December 23, 2012, baring saying that if the LOI can be issued to Limitless Knowledge Foundation for setting up of Punjab International University in Ludhiana even when it did not possess the requisite 35 acres, why should their trust not be issued an LOI? The management went on to point out that if the creation of the Akal University could be considered on the basis of its promoting society teaching music to Class 11 students, then why should they not be obliged too?