The President has renewed the appointment of controversial Madras Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) director MS Ananth for another two years, triggering allegations that the government is following a process declared illegal by the high court.
Ananth's "extension" till June 30, 2012, was approved without the government seeking sanction from the IIT Council - the highest decision-making body of the IITs - sources on the panel have told HT. The government may call a meeting of the panel for post-facto approval.
This is not the first such case. "The government has repeated its violation of taking the IIT Council for granted, and ignoring the IIT Act," said Dr E Muralidharan, who challenged Ananth's second term, given in 2007, in the Madras HC. Muralidharan plans to legally challenge the latest order too; he has already filed Right to Information (RTI) applications to get back-up files.
The HC in 2008 initially stayed Ananth's 2007 reappointment on the grounds that the government had not obtained the sanction of the IIT Council, as is required under the IIT Act. The order was the only occasion when an IIT director's appointment was stayed.
A different bench of the HC later vacated the stay after the human resource development ministry convened a meeting of the IIT Council and obtained post-facto approval for Ananth's appointment.
Government officials, however, argued that the 2007 reappointment could not be compared with the present extension awarded to Ananth.
Ananth, who was first appointed IIT director in December 2001, was appointed for a second term on July 1, 2007, for five years or till the age of 65, whichever came earlier. He turned 65 in November 2010. (Earlier this year, the HRD approved an increase in retirement age of IIT directors to 70.)
Note, however, that the President's order awarding Ananth's extension till July 1, 2012, came on November 16, 2010, two days after Ananth turned 65, on November 14. "How can someone receive an extension after they have officially completed their term?" wondered Muralidharan.
To his credit, Ananth launched the National Programme for Technology Enhanced Learning under which several IIT courses are available online. The It is modeled on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) open-source project. But he has faced allegations of caste bias.