A political controversy involving the resignation of the Director of IIT Delhi, Prof R.K. Shevgaonkar, has emanated following a report published in The Times of India. The newspaper has since issued an apology and deleted certain references in the article that drag Rajya Sabha MP and former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar in the whole controversy.
With allegations about pressure from the HRD ministry and BJP’s Subramanian Swamy, Prof. Shevgaonkar resigned with more than two years still left of his tenure. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party criticized the Union Government for the resignation, while the BJP alleged they were trying to gain political mileage. Let’s take a look at the aspects of the controversy
Why was Subramanian Swamy expelled from IIT?
Swamy joined Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) as a faculty member teaching economics, while also making a name for himself for his right-centric political opinions. He published what he called the ‘Swadeshi Plan’, arguing India didn’t need foreign aid and suggesting a market-friendly alternative to the Five-Year Plans. In March 1970, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had in the parliament mentioned Swamy by name and dismissed him as a “Santa Claus with unrealistic ideas”. Swamy’s ideas were out of sync with the socialist programs being followed by the GOI. At 5:15 pm on a December evening in 1972, Swamy was given a letter saying he had been sacked from IIT with effect from 5 pm. His wife, who taught mathematics, was also sacked. Swamy took IIT to court, eventually winning his case in 1991.
Rift between Swamy and IIT Delhi director Shevgaonkar
IIT had rejected Swamy’s claim for alleged dues claiming that he had failed to provide the details of the amount earned from his employment from December 11, 1972 to March 27, 1991. Swamy claims the Director had “falsely” presented the case for his dues before the Board of Governors of IIT, and was, therefore, denied his right which even the courts had upheld. Swamy has alleged that the resignation of Prof Shevgaonkar was not over the alleged demand by HRD Ministry to settle his dues but because the Director, Prof Shevagaonkar, was found to have in 2011 flown quietly to Mauritius without telling the Government of India and set up an institute in the name of an affiliate of the IIT. In order to hide this fact the Professor has tried to give the whole issue a political conspiracy.
Academic and professional career of R.K. Shevgaonkar
In 1975 Shevgaonkar graduated as Bachelor of Engineering (BE) in Electronics Engineering from Jiwaji University, Gwalior, winning a gold medal. In 1977, he completed his Master of Technology (M.Tech) in Electrical Engineering from IIT, Kanpur, specializing in Electromagnetic and Optical fibers.
He completed his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Electrical Engineering from IIT-Bombay (Indian Institute of Astrophysics/Raman Research Institute, Bangalore) in 1985 on Maximum Entropy Restoration of Astronomical Images. In between the time period 2003-2005 Shevagaonkar was Head, Electrical Engineering Department, IIT-Bombay and for 2010-2011 he was the Vice Chancellor of University of Pune. He had joined IIT-Delhi as a Director after his stint at the University of Pune and was also a Visiting Professor at University of Lincoln, USA, and ETH, Zurich, Switzerland, and ISEP Paris, France. Prof. R.K. Shevagaonkar has been awarded with IEEE UG Teaching Award 2011 along with Excellence in Teaching Award 2004 along with other recognitions for his work.
Role of Sachin Tendulkar in the entire episode
The TOI report had initially alleged that Sachin Tendulkar wanted to setup a cricket academy in IIT-Delhi and there was pressure on the director to give land for the same.
Tendulkar has since taken to Twitter to deny any plans of setting up a cricket academy and calls the TOI report baseless. TOI has since apologized to Sachin and removed any references made to him in their report.
Why IITs should be kept away from politics
Questions arose as to whether IIT-Delhi had the legal mandate and autonomy to practically run a campus in Mauritius with staff capacity and supervision capacity coming from India for the next five years. Director Shevgaonkar is accused to have operated outside the powers vested in him
. A MoU was signed in November 2013 between then HRD Minister Pallam Raju and the Mauritius Government concerning collaboration with IIT-Delhi and University of Mauritius. The former HRD Minister had said that the MoU was limited to setting up a Research Center and not for running a Campus. HRD Ministry sources have since confirmed that the IIT act provides for exchange of teachers and scholars between two countries. HRD ministry claims Shevgaonkar resigned after the ministry moved a file in the matter regarding IIT-Delhi’s campus in Mauritius, which the ministry claims violated the IIT Act. The ministry also added that it had neither forwarded Mr Swamy’s request to IIT-Delhi nor given any direction to make payment of arrears to Mr Swamy. All this has created a political furor with the AAP and Congress accusing of using Government machinery to disrupt the functioning of educational institutes such as IIT. Former IITians and many others feel IIT’s have excelled over the years and should have autonomy to chart its own path for improving its standards.
Why out of the court settlement?
Subramanian Swamy has been claiming approximately Rs. 70 lakh as reimbursement. After winning his case in 1991 in the Supreme Court, Swamy rejoined as a professor for one day and then resigned. Swamy’s civil suit claiming that the institute owes him more than Rs 70 lakhs for the services he rendered during his tenure there as an Assistant Professor between 1972 and 1991. The dispute is still pending before the court. After the BJP came to power, the Ministry sought the views of the Department of Personnel and Training on a possible settlement with Dr. Swamy. Dr. Swamy has meanwhile said he would send a contempt notice to Prof. Shevgaonkar for allegedly spreading a rumor that he resigned under pressure from the government for an out-of-court settlement.
Tweets supporting Director
IIT-D Alumni Association President Ashok Kumar said the whole of the institute’s alumni is not happy that Shevgaonkar had resigned. Former Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, himself an IITian, said it is very sad that Shevgaonkar had to resign and that the autonomy of IITs is being challenged. Support for Shevgaonkar has also been pouring in from people in academic circles.