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The government on Thursday justified the constitution of the governing board of Nalanda University by replacing a mentor group comprising Amartya Sen and others, saying the changes in its management were carried out to bring legality to the set-up and also end the ad hoc arrangement. George Yeo, former Singapore Foreign Minister and Chancellor of Nalanda University had resigned last week, protesting the manner in which the governing board was constituted without taking him into confidence.
“On November 21, the President of India, in his capacity as the Visitor of the Nalanda University approved the constitution of the Governing Board of the University in accordance with section 7 of the Nalanda University Act, 2010. “Let me emphasise that this is the first time since the Act was passed that a Governing Board has been properly constituted as per its provisions,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters.
The MEA coordinates functioning of the university as a number of countries are involved in the Nalanda project. With appointment of the board, Sen’s nearly decade-long association with the university came to an end as he was not included in the top decision making body along with Trinamool Congress MP Harvard professor Sugata Bose and UK-based columnist Lord Meghnad Desai.
Swarup said the Nalanda Mentor Group had been functioning for nine years and as the Nalanda Act provided for three year tenure for members, it was decided to constitute the Board in accordance with the Act. On government’s promise of giving George autonomy in running the institution, he said the President took the decision to bring legality to functioning of Nalanda.
“This is for the first time governing body has been constituted as provided for in the act. Before this, it was an ad hoc arrangement. So if we bring legality to a set-up and that legality is in accordance with the law as passed by Parliament, I do not think how anybody can have any issues with it,” he said.
Swarup said the last time the NMG’s tenure was extended was on November 25, 2013 making it three years since then, adding the group formed in 2007 was meant to discharge functions of Governing Board, pending its formation as per legal provisions.
Asked whether the government could have handled the issue in a better way taking the Chancellor into confidence, he said, “The visitor’s approval and instruction to constitute the new board were received on Monday and communicated as quickly as possible on the same day.”
In February last year, Sen, in a letter to the Governing Board had said he will not seek a second term as Chancellor as the BJP government did not want him to continue. The idea to revive Nalanda University was first mooted in 2005 by the then President APJ Abdul Kalam. The university is being built near the ruins of the historic academic place by the same name in Bihar and Sen was involved with the project since 2007. A number of countries are involved in the project.
Indian government had enacted the Nalanda University Act, 2010 to implement the decisions arrived at the Second East Asia Summit held in January, 2007 in the Philippines and subsequently at the Fourth East Asia Summit in Thailand for establishment of the Nalanda University.
In 2007, the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) was formed to implement the project. The NMG was discharging the functions of the Governing Board. After resigning from the Chancellor’s post, George had said in a statement to the NMG members, “The circumstances under which the leadership change in Nalanda University has been suddenly and summarily effected is disturbing and possibly harmful to the University’s development.”