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A scam in the name of reviving Nalanda heritage

A scam in the name of reviving Nalanda heritage

Author: Iftikhar Gilani
Publication: Tehelka.com
Date: September 1, 2011
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws010911EDUCATION.asp

No VC or University exists as per ministry, but every month, a 'VC' and other office bearers take home fat salaries

An ambitious plan of setting up the Nalanda University on the ruins of the ancient one - once a great seat of learning in Buddhist philosophy and statecraft - as perhaps the first residential international educational institution from 5th to 12th century, off Patna, is besmirched with controversies even before it starts any academic courses.

On 25 August the Ministry of External Affairs, which took up the matter regarding the university as its baby, told Rajya Sabha that no Vice-Chancellor has been appointed for the University. However, in an RTI reply on November 22 last year, the same ministry under the signatures of Joint Secretary Nagendra Kumar Saxena revealed that on the recommendations of the Nalanda Mentor Group, Dr Gopa Sabharwal was formally appointed Vice Chancellor.

The university was conceptualised as an international university involving the 16 ASEAN countries like China, Japan, Australia, Korea and Thailand. China has now, on its own, conceptualised an international Buddhist University in Lumbini, the birth-place of Gautama Buddha, now in Nepal.

The government has spent Rs 2.11 crore on meetings held by a 'mentor group' constituted under the chairmanship of Professor Amartya Sen in Singapore, Tokyo, New York, Delhi and Gaya to conceptualise establishment of the university. The group formed in 2007 was supposed to file a final report within a period of nine months but has not filed it yet. The Parliament, however, enacted the law for it in 2010 which was notified on September 22, 2010.

The controversy, however, erupted with the appointment of a 'Vice Chancellor-designate'of the new university even before the Act was notified for its establishment and that too at a fantastic monthly salary of Rs 5 lakhs plus, which is more than double the salary of the Delhi University vice-chancellor.

The incumbent Gopa Sabharwal, appointed through an order issued by a secretary in MEA on the recommendation of the mentor group, is just a reader in the department of sociology in the Lady Sri Ram College and has nothing to do with the Buddhist studies for which the university is to be set up. She did not meet the mandatory qualification set by the University Grants Commission (UGC) for the vice-chancellors of the central and state universities to be distinguished academicians with a minimum ten years of experience as a professor in a university system.

Questions are being asked as to who authorised the mentor group to recommend the name of the first VC of the university and why the ministry accepted the sole name proposed without seeking a panel of names required for such an appointment. However, Minister of State of External Affairs E Ahamed flatly denied appointment of any such vice-chancellor of the Nalanda University when asked by BJP MP Anil Dave in the Rajya Sabha on August 25.

Ignoring the government's recruitment rules that require public notice, Dr Sabharwal picked up her friend Dr Anjana Sharma, an associate professor in Delhi University, as the Officer-on-Special Duty (OSD) on deputation, with gross monthly salary of Rs 3.30 lakhs, which is more than the salary of a Vice-Chancellor in the rest of the country.

None in the mentor group, nor Dr Sabharwal have any background understanding of Nalanda nor did they consult any Buddhist or Tibetan institutions well-versed with the Nalanda tradition. They also found nothing wrong in setting up headquarters of the university in a rented building in the RK Puram area of south Delhi in January this year even though the Act specifically says the university's headquarters shall be in Nalanda district in Bihar.

The Standing Committee of the ministry says in its report just tabled in Parliament that the Nalanda project was estimated in 2007 to cost Rs 1,005 crore but this may have to be revised, and that the same mentor group has now become the interim governing board of the university. In its very first meeting in February, this board nominated adviser committee to help out and two persons representing India in it are Ms Upinder Singh, daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and her colleague Ms Nayanjot Lahiri, who are not experts on any aspect of the Nalanda tradition or history.

The Bihar Government has already acquired and transferred 446 acres of land in Rajbir, in the vicinity of the original Nalanda University site, but there seems to be nobody to monitor whether the new university will be living up to the reflected glory and really be built in a contemporary form involving India and other East Asian countries.

. In reply to an unstarred question on August 25, Ministry of External Affairs said no vice-chancellor has been appointed in Nalanda University.

. However, according to an RTI reply, vice chancellor Gopa Sabharwal and seven of her associates are drawing salaries since October 2010. Vice-chancellor draws salary of Rs 5,06,513 per month.

. As per the Act, the headquarters should be at Nalanda, Bihar, but within two months of Gazette notification on September 22 last year, were shifted to RK Puram in New Delhi

. President approved the Act on September 21 last year. The VC was appointed on September 9.

. The Act came into force on November 25, 2010.

. Under Government of India Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, MEA is not authorised to manage or own a university unless part of an inter-governmental agreement. No inter-governmental agreement exists for Nalanda University, unlike the South Asian University.

- Iftikhar Gilani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com. iftikhar@tehelka.com

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