Why did Somnath Chatterjee, former Lok Sabha speaker, write a letter to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011 and request him to appoint Prof Ved Prakash as the chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC)? A copy of the letter, which is in the possession of HT Education, heaps praise on Prof Prakash and says, “I am enclosing a copy of his CV for your kind information and consideration. I am sure that you will please take such decision as you think fit and proper. I have no doubt about his potential to steer clear the future of the UGC.”
Prof Prakash was appointed UGC chairman on January 18, 2013. When asked by HT Education to comment on the matter, Chatterjee now denies he had interfered in the selection process. “There was no (interference) nor there could be any question of interference, least political. I was never in such position. It was a bonafide suggestion,without any question of compulsion or breach of rules,” he says.
The then minister of corporate affairs, Dr M Veerappa Moily, had also written to former PM Singh in April 2012 and questioned the objectivity of the search-cum-select committee set up for the UGC chairman’s appointment.
The panel comprised of Prof Goverdhan Mehta, who was national research professor at Hyderabad University, K Srikanth Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India, and NR Madhava Menon, former head of the National Law School University, Bangalore.
Referring to Prof Pankaj Chandra and Prof Seyed E Hanain, two candidates nominated by the search committee for the UGC position, Moily’s letter said: “The UGC is expected to handle Rs 16,000 to Rs. 20,000 crore per annum and it has a say in the appointment of vice chancellors. Hence, it is not expected that the appointment of UGC chairman should be influenced by other extraneous criteria. The search committee should have worked with transparency and objectivity. The general opinion is that it has not objectively discharged its duty... one of the two (selected) had been vice chancellor of Hyderabad University and a CVC enquiry has been referred to the HRD ministry and is pending. Yet another person has never been part of the university system.”
Three more names were later added to the list of nominations, including that of Prof Ved Prakash.