The human resource development ministry has sought to amend the national institute of technology (NIT) act, in what appears to be an attempt to position itself as arbiter in internal disputes in institutions such as IITs and IIMs.
The ministry’s move has raised eyebrows as it had already drawn flak for its alleged interference in the functioning of such autonomous institutions.
NITs are autonomous institutions protected by an act and the ministry’s role is limited to appointing the director and the chairperson. Beyond this, it can play only an advisory role.
The ministry spokesperson denied any attempt to amend the act. But proposals discussed in the ministry suggest the NIT act should be amended to empower the government to play arbiter in cases where internal disputes hamper the functioning of institutes, sources said.
Other changes under consideration include limiting the five-year term of director and chairperson to a maximum of two stints. At present, both positions have no fixed term and the director and chairperson can hold the position till the age of 70.
Also being discussed is whether some criteria can be fixed for selection of the chairperson. As of now, the ministry can appoint any person of eminence as chairperson.
The proposed changes will be discussed at a NIT council meeting scheduled for next month. The move could invite criticism just as the IIM bill did as it gave sweeping powers to the government.
According to the bill, which could not be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, IIMs will need to take approval from the ministry for fixing their fee structure, faculty remunerations and department formation.
After the majority of IIMs protested against the contentious provisions, the ministry said the objections would be considered. The move to amend the NIT act comes in the wake of a tussle between the chairperson and director of NIT Rourkela that has paralysed the institute, one of the oldest and largest NITs in the country.
Director SK Sarangi and chairperson Vasantha Ramaswamy, the two seniormost officials, sparred at board meetings over the inclusion of two board members whose term had lapsed in March. The HRD ministry has not been able to intervene decisively because of the NIT act.