BANGALORE: Home to prestigious research institutions and a hot destination for engineering and medical education, India's IT hub Bangalore may lose out on having a School of Economics on the lines of the famed London School of Economics - all because of a land row.
The proposal for such a school, mooted by Bangalore University vice chancellor N. Prabhu Dev, has received a pledge of Rs.100 crore from a leading industrialist, Sitaram Jindal of the Jindal Group.
But it faces burial as it has got embroiled in a row over the plan to allot 50 acres of land in the sprawling Bangalore varsity campus spread over 1,100 acres, about 15 km away from the city centre, to house the school.
Dev has been accused by a section of unnamed varsity officials and Syndicate members of the varsity of trying to "sell for a song" the 50 acres of land to Jindal.
Both Dev and the Jindal group have rubbished the charges.
A "deeply hurt" Dev, a former student of the varsity and a former professor of cardio-thoracic surgery, has chosen an unusual way to settle the row.
He has appealed to people to e-mail him their opinion on whether or not they want the school to email@example.com!
Dev's move is understandable as land deals these days are highly sensitive issues in Karnataka, snaring leading politicians and former judges.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) first chief minister in Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa, leads the list of politicians fighting legal battles over allegations of illegal land deals.
The number of BJP legislators, including two ministers, hauled up before the courts for such deals has reached eight.
Dev has given the people three options -- bring the school under Bangalore University; set it up under the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act but outside the varsity's purview; or scrap the proposal.
However, the response has been surprisingly muted. "I have received about 50 e-mails and 20 phone calls," Dev told IANS. "All except five support the project."
Dev was so upset with the allegations that he dropped the plan to present Dec 27 the detailed report of the project to the varsity's academic council. He now intends to do so Jan 12.
"Let us see how things go," he said, when asked if he was hopeful of the council approving the project after which it has to be presented to the varsity Syndicate and then the government for final nod.
Appealing to people to take a stand, Dev had said in a statement: "A section of the Syndicate has openly articulated against the School of Economics. They have canvassed a total lie that land is sold to the Jindal group."
"I'm hurt by the smear campaign. I have my apprehensions about the viability of the project because of the vengeful attitude of a section of the administration. It requires a sense of deep commitment and passion to establish a school of economics of global standards," he said.
The school project report was prepared by a group of eminent people headed by Dev with former Infosys director T.V. Mohandas Pai as co-chair.
The project, if it takes off, will need five years to become operational.
In view of the controversy, the BJP government headed by D.V. Sadananda Gowda may take its own time to give the final nod as it would definitely not want to land itself in a row, particularly over land allotment.
Hence Bangalore's wait to become a 'wholesome city', in the sense of having a prestigious economics institution, also will probably continue.
The city, with a population of 8.5 million, takes pride in housing several famed institutions.
They include the Indian Institute of Science, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), several defence-related research bodies and the first National Law School of India University.
Dev himself was director of the sought-after state-run Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research in Bangalore prior to taking over as Bangalore University vice chancellor in February 2009.
However, a School of Economics could be a jewel in the many crowns that Bangalore wears - pensioners' paradise, garden city, air-conditioned city -- apart from being a metaphor for outsourcing.