Indian Institute of Technology, Madras chose to ignore the decision of the human resource development minister-led IIT Council in awarding gold coins to staff members, suggest fresh documents, drilling holes in the Institute’s justification for the controversial move.
The IIT’s argument that awarding gold coins is justified since non-government funds were used deviates from a decision taken by the Council, the documents accessed by HT reveal. The Council – the highest decision making body of the IITs – had at its 39th meeting on January 28, 2009 specifically clarified to directors that all funds with the IITs were strictly “public funds.”
Institute director MS Ananth also faces questions over a flurry of appointments that the IIT is making in violation of an HRD ministry convention since 2004 barring heads of autonomous institutions from making appointments in their last three months. Ananth has already submitted his resignation and quits end-June.
The IIT decision to award gold coins to about 1500 staff as a part of golden jubilee celebrations, first reported by HT on April 21, drew flak from some faculty members who turned down the offer, terming it a “waste of public money.”
Responding to criticism, Ananth and Dean (administration) P Sriram had argued that non-HRD ministry funds were used for the project.
The IIT administrators attempted to distinguish between government funding and money generated by the Institute or donated by alumni, suggesting that the two could not be treated at par.
Some faculty members had questioned this argument, asking why alumni or corpus funds were not instead being used to improve facilities or infrastructure at the IIT.
But the minutes of the Council’s 39th meeting show that the body – in which IIT Madras is also represented by its director and Chairman – had foreseen the possibility of the IITs attempting to use corpus or alumni funds to celebrate their golden or diamond jubilees.
The Council, headed at the time by then HRD minister Arjun Singh, specifically debated on the norms the IITs should follow in celebrating their 50th anniversaries.
“It was mentioned that all the funds sanctioned to IITs as well as any other moneys available with the directors, IITs including the Alumni donations etc., were public funds and as such it is the responsibility of the directors of IITs to utilized all the funds with due diligence and accountability,” the minutes of the meeting state.
Asked about the divergence between the IIT’s argument in justifying the award of gold coins and the Council’s decision – taken two years ago – Ananth accepted that the Council’s decision was binding on him too.
“I cannot pretend that the Council’s decision does not hold for me. But that decision was taken in the context that the IITs were at the time transferring Non-Plan funds from the government of India to their corpus funds,” he argued.
Top government officials however dismissed this argument, pointing to the Council’s description of all money with the directors, including even alumni donations as public funds.
“It is absurd to suggest that funds not drawn from the government are any less public than government funds. These are funds obtained in the name of a public institution – an IIT – and are meant to be used for building infrastructure and implementing other visionary plans. They are not meant for doling out gold coins,” an official countered.
Ananth’s decision to make a series of appointments has also raised concerns at the HRD ministry, which has tried to strictly enforce a policy of heads of institutions refraining from making fresh appointments on the eve of their departure.
A 2004 letter to all autonomous institutions – including the IITs – clearly states that no appointments or promotions are to be made within the last three months of a Vice Chancellor, director or head of an institution.
The HRD ministry had barely six months back intervened to stop then University Grants Commission chairman Sukhdeo Thorat from promoting UGC officials in his last weeks in office.
Ananth argued that the Institutes of Technology Act and the statutes of IIT, Madras do not bar appointments in the last three months of a director’s tenure.
He also rubbished as fiction rumours that his son and daughter were among potential beneficiaries of vacant faculty posts to which appointments are allegedly being made. “Neither my son, nor my daughter are candidates for faculty posts,” he asserted.
The director also argued that the appointments he is undertaking could not be compared to an appointment of a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) which was recently stayed by the Madras high court.
“I am making only those appointments that are absolutely essential for the running of the Institute,” Ananth said.