In a scathing criticism of the process adopted by the Human Resource Development Ministry for the recent selection of directors of three Indian Institutes of Technology, nuclear scientist and chairman of the Board of Governors of IIT-Bombay Anil Kakodkar said he quit the board as he could not be party to “wrongdoing”.
Speaking to Shekhar Gupta on Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7, Kakodkar alleged the ministry adopted “too casual a process for such an important activity”. He also, for the first time, publicly rebutted the ministry’s claim that he had re-joined the selection process.
A member of the selection committee and chairman of the Standing Committee of the IIT Council, Kakodkar had resigned on March 12 following a “disagreement” over the choice of an IIT director. The ministry, however, did not accept his resignation, with HRD Minister Smriti Irani requesting him to withdraw it.
Speaking at Express Adda last month, HRD Minister Smriti Irani had dismissed a report, first published in The Indian Express, about Kakodkar’s resignation.
The selection committee, chaired by Irani, was reaching a consensus on the choice of directors for IIT-Patna and IIT-Bhubaneswar, but there was no agreement on IIT-Ropar, and the process involving 12 candidates was later cancelled. All 37 candidates in the original shortlist were called for a fresh round of interviews on March 22, which was not attended by Kakodkar. Directors for all three IITs have now been appointed.
Asked if the earlier selection process had been set aside without discussion, Kakodkar said, “It looks like that.”
“The point is you can’t be deciding that choice of IIT director or three IIT directors among 36 in a six or seven hour process. If you set aside everything and then you decide like that, then you are running a lottery,” Kakodkar said.
Asked if he had tried to reason with Irani, Kakodkar said, “Actually when the process began, I argued this at length and actually we had this process of group discussion and shortlist, but then something happened and the whole thing was set aside.”
“So I had to remain aside. There are good bureaucrats, not so good bureaucrats, good political leaders. There are not so good political leaders. So the important thing is the system. After all, these are all public funded institutions and I think we should respect it. But there is also a huge importance to autonomy and so the external environment should become more a facilitator rather than a controller…,” he said.
Asked whether the pressure had come from civil servants or the minister, Kakodkar said, “Well, you know it, why you are asking me?”
However, he later said he thinks “it’s not as if there was pressure” but “the question was a particular process was set aside and then you look at all of them”.
“This is too casual a process for such an important activity and at least I can’t be a party to this,” he said.
Asked if he was back in the committee, Kakodkar said, “I haven’t joined that process back, but certainly I still continue to be a responsible person. If I am a chairman of IIT Board till May, by virtue of that if I have to do other things, I will do.”
He added that following his resignation in March, “the minister, as she was good enough, so she called back and said no, no, I don’t accept your resignation”.
He added, “So I am continuing till May and by virtue of that there are other IIT processes, I will carry on, but I cannot be a party (to) wrongdoing.”
Kakodkar also came out in support of IIT-Delhi director R Shevgaonkar, who resigned last December amid reports of pressure from the ministry. “I feel very sorry for him… He is a well-respected academic. I think students, faculty colleagues, his peers, they will all vouch for him and such a person who has to come to the conclusion to quit is…,” he said.
“Obviously his self-respect is severely hurt, undeservingly so, and I understand he wanted to go and I think he should be given an honourable way. So although it would be a loss to IIT-Delhi and I know IIT-Delhi, all colleagues there are strongly behind him, so that’s it. I think it’s very sad.”
Asked if Shevgaonkar was willing to change his mind, Kakodkar said, “The question is, I think, all of us have some minimum self-respect and in his case it was severely hurt.”