President Pranab Mukherjee has expressed displeasure over the government’s last-minute request to approve the resignation of former IIT Delhi director RK Shevgaonkar, who quit last year amid allegations that the Centre was meddling in premier institutions.
The rare show of displeasure came after the human resource development ministry ignored Shevgaonkar’s repeated pleas for relieving orders and submitted his files a day before he was due to quit on June 12, information obtained through the Right to Information Act (RTI) showed.
Shevgaonkar’s resignation was the first in a series of high-profile departures from top institutions that have rocked the HRD ministry, setting off Opposition complaints that minister Smriti Irani was destroying premier academic establishments.
In March, nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar quit as chairman of IIT Bombay’s governing body following reports of differences with Irani over the selection of three IIT directors.
While expressing “pleasure” in relieving Shevgaonakar of his duties on June 12, Rashtrapati Bhawan sources confirmed the president, who is a visitor at the IITs, noted his “displeasure” for the late request.
But the HRD ministry spokesperson Ghanshyam Goyal said the delay was caused by the IIT-D governing body, which persuaded the ministry to not accept the resignation initially. When the council realised Shevgaonkar was adamant, they reconsidered, the spokesperson added. "We have in writing, the change in boards's position, and we will convey it to the president," he said.
The former director quit in December — two years before the end of his term — after reported tiff with the department over payment of Rs. 70 lakh to BJP leader and former IIT-Delhi faculty Subramanian Swamy as salary arrears.
The ministry denied all allegations and hinted at financial irregularities by Shevgaonkar in setting up an offshore IIT campus in Mauritius.
After no charges were found, the ministry softened its stance and indicated the stalemate could be resolved by allowing Shevgaonkar to join IIT Bombay as a faculty member.
After his resignation, Shevgaonkar wrote to the ministry in February asking it to treat his December resignation letter as three months notice and relieve him on March 22.
When the ministry ignored his plea and relieving orders were not issued, the director once again wrote on March 11 asking the ministry to treat this letter as his three months notice and let him leave the position on June 12.
But Shevgaonkar’s file was not forwarded to the president even after former higher education secretary SN Mohanty recommended he should be relieved.
Sources told HT Irani differed with Mohanty, and hence Shevgaonkar’s file was kept in her office until almost the end of his notice period.
"An IIT director just four days ago returns from Moscow with the President of India after having an all-expenses paid trip to Moscow to do something on behalf of the IITs as the IIT director. Does that look like a man who wants to resign?" Irani told a television channel in May.