The University Grants Commission (UGC) has selected scientist Akhilesh Gupta as secretary, its number two position, after weeks of bitter controversy that threatened to derail the working of India’s apex higher education regulator.
The Commission, at a meeting on October 22, also decided to remove earlier acting secretary Niloufer Kazmi, also an applicant for the secretary’s post. Kazmi, who lost the race to Gupta – a scientist with the department of science and technology – has leveled charges of corruption and discrimination against UGC chairman Ved Prakash. The human resource development (HRD) ministry has found these allegations baseless.
The UGC, which completely funds the country’s 40 central universities and partially supports many state universities and public and private colleges, has worked without a full-time secretary for over six years. Two acting secretaries preceded Kazmi.
In September, Kazmi and Gupta were among candidates shortlisted for the post of full-fledged secretary after an initial screening process. The selection team finally picked Gupta.
But on the day Gupta was selected, Kazmi wrote to the HRD ministry accusing Prakash of coercing her into helping him cover up corruption. Prakash helped his wife gain admission into a PhD programme at Jamia Hardard and then a job as a university registrar, though she was unqualified for both, Kazmi alleged.
She also complained to the National Commission on Minorities (NCM) that the UGC had violated norms in not picking a minority community member on the selection panel that had chosen Gupta. Kazmi has also approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
The UGC argued that the rules did not require mandatory representation of a minority community member, but set up a fresh selection panel including former central information commissioner MM Ansari to conduct the search for a secretary again.
The HRD ministry independently probed the charges leveled by Kazmi against Prakash and concluded they lacked any evidentiary support.
The new UGC selection panel last Saturday interviewed candidates – including Kazmi – and once again picked Gupta. It recommended Najma Akhtar, a professor at the National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), as a second back up candidate for the UGC to consider.
The full UGC then met on Tuesday, where members unanimously approved Gupta’s appointment. But the drama wasn’t over.
UGC members who participated in the meeting told HT how after Gupta’s selection was approved, Prakash was asked to recuse himself from the meeting for a few minutes while the commission debated on action against Kazmi.
As Prakash was then recalled into the room, the UGC decided that Kazmi would be asked to leave the commission, arguing that she had vitiated the working of the higher education regulator. Kazmi, some members alleged, had also misused her office and its resources to run a campaign against Prakash.
The UGC plans to officially appoint Gupta once the CAT decides on Kazmi’s case, expected to come up for hearing on October 30.