Thirteen new colleges were approved last year by the Maharashtra government using discretionary powers despite them being found ineligible under norms and the state’s higher and technical education department rejecting their proposals, according to records obtained by The Indian Express under the RTI Act.
Three of these 13 colleges belong to a trust run by the wife of former Union Minister Raosaheb Danve, now the BJP state president. One belongs to an education society, of which BJP Rajya Sabha member Prabhakar Kore is chairperson. A law college in Borivali, which was approved after the deadline, belongs to Ramesh Singh Thakur, a former Congress legislator who switched to the BJP last year.
The three colleges run by the trust linked to Danve’s wife are at Bhokardan in Jalna district in the Marathwada region — a residential and two degree colleges. According to inspection reports of the higher and technical education department, they did not have the area required to run a new college or the permission to use agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. The report also stated that the three lacked drinking water and drainage facilities.
Education Minister Vinod Tawde, however, granted approval to the colleges, stating that Marathwada was a backward region and did not have enough educational institutions, records show. The education department checks each application against the norms set up by the government in 2013.
According to these norms, a college must own the specified area of non-agricultural land and hold a fixed deposit of at least Rs 5 lakh. Besides, its building must have all structural permits and infrastructural requirements such as laboratories, toilets, record rooms, library and staff room. Drinking water facilities, drainage systems, electricity facilities should also be in place for both owned and rented spaces, the rules state. Records show that the higher and technical education department received around 300 applications to start new colleges for the year 2016-17.
When contacted, a senior government official told the Indian Express that only three colleges were approved in the five years until 2014 using discretionary powers and that 49 new colleges were approved last year. The decision came after two rounds of inspections by the higher and technical education department. The deadline for approval was extended from June 25 to July 31 and finally to August 5.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that 13 of these colleges, which had not been given permission for operations by the department, were approved by Tawde and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis using discretionary powers vested in the government under section 82(5) of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act 1994.
The clause states: “Out of the applications recommended by the university, the State Government may grant permission to such institutions as it may consider right and proper in its absolute discretion, taking into account the State Government’s budgetary resources, the suitability of the managements seeking permission to open new institutions and the State level priorities with regard to location of institutions of higher learning”.
When contacted, Fadnavis declined to comment on the RTI findings, while Tawde said his decisions were aimed at benefiting “rural and interior” areas. “I have taken the decisions [of granting approvals to colleges] as per the rights given to me under the Act so that rural and interior areas may get the benefits [from the colleges],” said Tawde.
However, he declined to comment on the political links of these colleges or on his own government’s findings that some colleges lacked infrastructure. When contacted, Danve said the colleges run by the Chhatrapati Shivaji Smarak Samiti were approved based on merit. “I don’t have the details of the proposals submitted by the trust but the approval process was legal,” he said.
In the case of KLES College of Law, Kalamboli, run by the Karnataka Lingayat Education Society headed by BJP MP Kore, the department found fault in the documents submitted but termed it eligible in the second inspection. The department, however, didn’t grant the college approval based on technical grounds.
MP Kore said, “I don’t know about other colleges but my college was approved legally. The department had missed my documents and when I pointed it out, my college was included.” Records show that 12 colleges were approved on August 5 using section 82(5) of the Act. A government resolution was issued immediately announcing approval for 48 colleges.
More than a month later, approval was granted for Thakur Ramnarayan College of Law in Borivali, belonging to Ramesh Singh Thakur, the BJP leader who was earlier a Congress legislator. This was done seven days after the deadline had lapsed and after the slot reserved for law colleges in the western suburbs for the year 2016-17 had been granted to St Rock’s Degree College of Law, also under 82(5).
On August 12, Tawde sent a handwritten note to the education department: “Several public representatives and institutions have highlighted the need for a law college in the western suburbs. Taking this into consideration, Thakur Ramnarayan College of Law has been approved, even though the slot for law college is already allotted this year.” A government resolution to the effect was issued on September 9, 2016.
“My college met all the criteria. We had all the documents in place. I could go to court challenging the state’s earlier decision of not granting approval. There was no foul play involved,” said Thakur. When contacted by The Indian Express, additional chief secretary for higher and technical Sitaram Kunte, whose department had rejected the proposals of the colleges, declined to comment.