The HRD Ministry has opposed IIT-Kanpur Senate’s recommendation to revoke the PhD thesis of a Dalit teacher — who had complained of harassment and discrimination by four colleagues last year — on charges of plagiarism. The government has advised the institute to impose a penalty as per UGC’s regulations on plagiarism instead.
The HRD Ministry communicated its stand on April 5, four days ahead of the institute’s Board of Governors (BoG) meeting in which a decision on the Senate’s recommendation is expected.
As reported by The Indian Express on April 1, the IIT-Kanpur Senate, in its meeting held on March 14, decided to cancel the PhD dissertation of Subrahmanyam Sadrela, a teacher in IIT-Kanpur’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, on allegations of plagiarism, although the institute’s Academic Ethics Cell found “no reason to revoke the thesis”.
The plagiarism charges against Sadrela were made in an anonymous email sent to several faculty members on October 15, 2018 — two months after an inquiry by a retired High Court judge found the four teachers guilty of harassing him and violating the conduct rules of IIT-K and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The complaint alleged that parts of Sadrela’s PhD thesis — on parameter estimation of unmanned aerial vehicles using flight test data at low and high angles of attack — were “plagiarised” from the works of three other people. IIT-Kanpur Director Abhay Karandikar referred the complaint to the Academic Ethics Cell, which found it “prima facie correct”.
However, the nine-member Ethics Cell’s report, submitted last November, said: “…there is no allegation of plagiarism with regard to the scholar’s research work comprising his creative and technical part of the dissertation, including detailed experiments, tables, figures and the conclusions drawn from them. Thus, the only instances of copying are restricted to certain introductory passages in several chapters and mathematical basics and preliminaries.”
It said “the committee felt that it would not be proposed to consider revocation of the thesis”. It recommended that Sadrela rewrite the passages in his own words and submit an updated thesis in a month, and tender an apology letter to the institute director for his “misdemeanour”.
However, when the Ethics Cell report was referred to the Senate Post Graduate Committee (SPGC) by the director, the SPGC, on February 15, recommended withdrawal of Sadrela’s PhD thesis. This was accepted by the Senate on March 14.
But on April 5, the HRD Ministry pointed out to IIT-Kanpur that the Academic Ethics Cell had found no reason for revocation and also stated that the institute has no guidelines for dealing with different degrees of plagiarism in thesis writing. In the absence of the institute’s own plagiarism guidelines, the ministry suggested that IIT-Kanpur follow the University Grants Commission (Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations 2018.
“In accordance with this national standard (UGC Regulations on plagiarism), and also going by the AEC (Academic Ethics Cell) conclusion, it is not correct to accept the Senate recommendation for revocation of Ph.D degree,” the ministry said in its note to IIT-Kanpur.