NSA Against Sen-sitive Nalanda as CAG Exposes Financial Mayhem
By Yatish Yadav - NEW DELHI
Published: 23rd Mar 2014 09:26:16 AM
India’s universities may be reeling under a fund crunch, but in the world of the pampered, Nalanda University that hasn’t taken off even after it was mooted in 2007, it’s always sunshine. Thus hasn’t stopped its elevated Chancellor, the Nobel laureate Dr Amartya Sen from railing and ranting against bureaucrats for being ‘austere’. The UPA government bypassed its own rules on financial and administrative autonomy despite two scathing inspection report of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) indicted university and government for irregularities in the decision making processes. Moreover, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon had expressed serious reservation over the financial dealings in Sen’s outfit. The Sunday Standard accessed minutes of Prime Minister office (PMO) meeting on Nalanda and two audit inspection reports exposing the serious violation of laid down norms.
Minutes of the PMO meeting on February 14, 2013 reveals that National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon had raised several concerns regarding undue privileges to the university arguing that if the government is paying the money, it has to enforce the rules. NSA began the discussion by asking how diplomatic status could be given to the university. He noted that South Asian University is an international organisation but Nalanda University was the result of an act of Parliament. “The issue of tax free benefits is difficult. Nalanda University is an Indian body under the Act. How can Indian nationals be exempt from Indian laws?” Menon asked. “NSA said the government cannot fund the university and break its own rules. We have tied our own hands. The Joint Secretary Department of Expenditure agreed,” the letter accessed by The Sunday Standard said. Menon said the government had only two choices—Give a `1,500 crore corpus and let the university spend it as it deems fit or enforce rules. “While we could work around diplomatic status and modify the Act, we don’t have a way out on salaries,” Menon added.
“NSA said the issues were (i) Salaries, (ii) Application of UGC norms, (iii) Audit by CAG and (iv) Reservations in admission,” the letter said.NSA was perhaps indicating the astronomically high salary paid to staffers even before the Act was passed.
However, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External of Affairs told the meeting about Sen’s wish on financial autonomy. “Secretary (East) said the Chancellor, Amrtya Sen, believes that the university should have full autonomy and should be centre of excellence, with full freedom to set salaries,” the letter revealed.
Interestingly, the department of expenditure in February this year had questioned full financial autonomy, arguing that government rules and oversight should be maintained since huge sums are being paid by the national exchequer. The move triggered massive controversy in South Block, prompting government to get amendments in the Nalanda University Act cleared by the Union Cabinet on February 28, 2014 to extend special privileges and academic freedom. Joint Secretary, Department of Expenditure had told the PMO meeting that under the United Nations (Privilege & Immunities) Act, 1947, the Ministry of Finance has never given any Indian institutions the privileges and immunities envisaged in Headquarters Agreement.
Finance Ministry was of the view that since Nalanda was being projected as an international university and collaborative efforts of a number of countries, the capital cost must be shared and government of India could bear a majority share up to 50 per cent. The move had rattled Ministry of External Affairs which claimed that member states had no legal obligation to contribute and India will remain major contributor in foreseeable future. “The Prime Minister had made public commitment for supporting the project,” MEA stated.
IRREGULARITIES IN APPOINTMENTS, SALARIES
Inspection reports of 2012 and 2013 conducted by the office of Director General of Audit claimed that appointment of VC and officers of the university was non-transparent. “Leave the international standard, even standards of selection of VC suggested by UGC were not followed in the selection of VC (designate)....selection of officers was made on the basis of pick and choose and not by giving wide publicity,” the report stated.
CAG questioned international standards claiming there is nothing on record to suggest global publicity was given to meet the international standards in appointments. The audit said pay and allowances were fixed on the basis of the demand of the individuals instead of following rules or terms and conditions of the deputation. It also pointed out that Nalanda University cannot be compared with the South Asia University as the whole expenditure is being met from consolidated fund of India.
FOREIGN TRAVELS & MEETING AT FIVE STAR HOTELS
The audit report pointed out foreign travels by the VC and Officer on Special Duty (OSD) was allowed without sanction from Ministry of External Affairs. The Audit Report of 2012 which examined the books of account of 2011 said VC and OSD made six trips to Singapore, Honolulu, Japan, China and US but neither administrative nor financial sanction from the Ministry of External Affairs was obtained. “Meetings with the members of the governing board were held in five star hotels ignoring the provisions of the instructions of the Ministry of Finance,” the report stated. The audit report of 2013 which was submitted to the Ministry in December last year revealed that finance committee was constituted in October 2013, three years after Nalanda University Act was made applicable.
“All major financial decisions taken during 2010-13 including creation of posts in the university, their emoluments and other benefits to the tune of `3.07 crore were without the approval of Finance Committee,” the audit noted.