THE HRD Ministry denied a request from Jamia Millia Islamia to award an honorary doctorate to actor Shah Rukh Khan, a former student of the university, saying it would “not be in order” since he had already received a similar degree from the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) — although there is no official bar on such a practice.
Records accessed by The Indian Express under the Right To Information (RTI) Act reveal that the HRD Ministry’s rejection came three months after Jamia’s request last February. When contacted by The Indian Express, Higher Education Secretary R Subrahmanyam acknowledged that there were “no rules issued by UGC regarding this so far”.
Asked about similar instances earlier when honorary doctorates were awarded by different universities to eminent personalities, he said it could have been the case that one institution did not know what the other was doing. “As a matter of policy, we discourage such things,” Subrahmanyam said.
Shah Rukh Khan was a master’s student of Jamia’s AJK Mass Communication Research Centre from 1988-90, but could not appear for his final year exams due to shortage of attendance.
The Indian Express has learnt that Jamia wrote to Khan on January 30, 2018, stating that he was the “most prestigious alumnus” of the university and that they wished to confer him with an “Honoris Causa” (honorary doctorate) to “strengthen ties”. They said they were waiting for the HRD Ministry’s approval, following which the degree would be awarded in February.
Khan’s consent was received via an email dated February 17, 2018, in which one of his assistant’s said “it will be an honour to accept this”.
In its official response to an RTI query, Jamia stated: “JMI wrote to HRD for conferring Honoris Causa to Mr Shahrukh Khan. The MHRD does not agree to confer Honoris Causa to Mr Shahrukh Khan as MANUU has already confer the Honoris Causa to him in 2016.” It stated that “Mr Shahrukh Khan agreed to accept the award”.
RTI records show that the letter to the Higher Education Secretary was sent on February 21, 2018, by Jamia Registrar A P Siddiqui. “In recognition of his (Khan’s) services rendered to Indian Cinema and as brand ambassador of the Indian culture, the Jamia Millia Islamia University has decided to confer Honorary degree (Honoris Causa) as a fitting tribute to his remarkable contribution in the diverse field of Indian Film and Culture. Consent of Mr Shahrukh Khan has also been received and enclosed. Submitted for necessary approval and further action, please,” it read.
In response, HRD Ministry Under Secretary P K Singh in a letter dated February 26 asked the university to “clarify” whether “the approval of Competent Authority of University has been taken”. He did not, at this stage, deny Jamia’s request.
The minutes of an “extra-ordinary meeting” on March 14, 2018, of Jamia’s Executive Council — the competent authority in this case — shows that the university approved the proposal of conferring Khan with the award. This was later conveyed to the Ministry.
However, RTI records show that Singh sent another letter to Jamia, on April 11, denying the request. “It has been observed that Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad has already conferred Honorary degree on Shri Shahrukh Khan in December 2016. Therefore, a view has been taken that two doctorate degrees for the same person would not be in order,” it said.
Jamia PRO Ahmed Azeem refused to comment on the matter. Subrahmanyam stated: “Whenever there is a recommendation of the Executive Committee seeking approval for awarding an honorary doctorate, we check whether the same person has been awarded the same honour by another central university; and whether there is any conflict of interest. In case of Shah Rukh Khan, his exceptional services in the field of acting have already been recognised by another Central Univ MANUU, Hyderabad by conferring the honorary doctorate with the approval of Hon President of India and MHRD.”
He also claimed that “since 2014, there has not been any instance where the same person has been awarded honorary doctorate in more than one central university”.
An investigation by The Indian Express published in February last year, also based on RTI replies, had revealed that several people — many of them in positions of power — had received multiple honorary degrees. Among them were Bharat Ratna awardee scientist CNR Rao who had been awarded an honorary degree by University of Kashmir in 2015 and IIT Kanpur in 2016, and renowned scientist M S Swaminathan, had been awarded a degree by Punjab University in 2015 and by IIT Kanpur in 2017.