MINISTER OF State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya is learnt to have written to HRD Minister Smriti Irani recommending a candidate for the post of chairman at the National Council of Rural Institutes (NCRI).
In a letter dated January 13, a copy of which has been reviewed by The Indian Express, Dattatreya has requested Irani to “consider” the candidature of K Sudhakar for the position. The missive does not state any reason for recommending Sudhakar, who has served as the member-secretary of the Council in 2014.
NCRI is an autonomous institution under the HRD Ministry and works on building the capacity of different formal and informal rural institutes. Currently, it doesn’t have a full-time chairman — a government committee will interview 11 candidates for the position on February 9.
Hyderabad Central University (HCU) Vice Chancellor Professor Appa Rao Podile was given additional charge of NCRI on January 7. But with Podile proceeding on indefinite leave following the furore over the suicide of a Dalit student on campus, HCU’s interim V-C M Periasamy was made the Council’s acting chairman.
Dattatreya’s letter assumes significance against the backdrop of a raging debate on political interference in academic institutions and academic matters. The Minister was recently embroiled in a controversy as the Opposition parties accused him of abetting the suicide of HCU research scholar Rohith Vemula.
Vemula was one of the five students who had been suspended from the hostel by the executive council of the university for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader. He committed suicide on January 17.
A few months before the expulsion, Dattatreya had written to Irani on the issue, demanding action against “anti-national” and “anti-social” elements in HCU. After Vemula’s death, a case under the Prevention of Atrocities Act was registered against Dattatreya and the HCU V-C.
Dattatreya was not available for comment on why he recommended Sudhakar for the post of NCRI chairman despite repeated calls and text messages sent to his mobile phone. The Minister’s private secretary C Sudharsan Reddy did not respond to a questionnaire emailed on Tuesday seeking Dattatreya’s comment. HRD Ministry spokesperson Ghanshyam Goel, too, did not respond to questions seeking comment sent on Wednesday.
According to sources, the HRD Ministry has not replied to Dattatreya’s letter. “He can choose to recommend whoever he wants but the government is under no obligation to go by it,” said a source, who did not wish to be identified.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Sudhakar confirmed that he has applied for the position and been called for the interview. He denied having any knowledge of Dattatreya endorsing his candidature.
“I was the member-secretary (of NCRI) earlier. I have applied for the post. I have been called for the interview. I don’t have any idea if he (Dattatreya) has written a letter supporting me,” said Sudhakar.
Asked if he knew Minister Dattatreya, Sudharkar said, “I met him long ago when I was the NCRI member-secretary. I’m sorry I can’t answer all your questions because I don’t know who you are.”