Nalanda University, a prestigious project of the UPA government, is yet to take off. It has been marred by irregularities and nepotism. In the centre of the storm is the newly appointed Vice Chancellor, Dr Gopa Sabharwal. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, chairman of the Interim Governing Board of Nalanda University and Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG), had recommended her as one of the three candidates. In his letter on February 6, 2009 to the then External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, the Nobel laureate says ‘it has been a difficult choice’ (selecting a Rector).
He recommended three names in the following order—1. Dr Gopa Sabharwal (Sociologist, Delhi University and Lady Sri Ram College) 2. Dr Ramchandra Guha (Historian, biographer and writer) and 3. Dr Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Political scientist, President, Centre for Policy Studies). The Nobel Laureate’s letter, written on a Harvard University letterhead, is a single page communication. It carries no details about the selection process, search committee or annexes any document submitted by the candidates. There is no information about the total number of candidates considered for the said post.
Sabharwal was eventually chosen though she doesn’t have the necessary qualifications; she was only a reader in the sociology department of Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi. The University Grants Commission (UGC) states that vice-chancellors of central and state universities should be distinguished academics who have been university professors for a minimum of ten years.
Sabharwal explains, “It is a normal norm and an Indian practice to suggest three names to the panel. The names are either given in random order or by preference. ”
However, soon after Sen’s letter, another missive from the Ministry of External Affairs’ Secretary (East’s) office dated February 17, 2009, to the PMO suggested Dr Guha as the most suitable candidate for Vice Chancellor. But a duly signed recall letter from National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon’s office dated March 2, 2009, to the ministry and signed by prime minister Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee says Gopa Subramaniam will be the vice chancellor.
Sabharwal says. “It is absolutely natural for NMG to be the first governing board and take its decisions, including recommendation of the vice chancellor. The Nalanda Act says that NMG will be Nalanda University’s governing board, for a year.” However, the recommendation was done a year before the Act came into being.
Back To The Future: Sabharwal was made ‘Vice Chancellor Designate’ through a DO letter dated September 9, 2010 instead of the mandatory Office Order. Fresh communication dated March 19, 2012 signed by Sanjay Singh, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs confirmed her as the Vice-Chancellor, Nalanda University with retrospective effect from October 8, 2010. Interestingly, this was before the Nalanda University Act, 2010 was enforced by the Ministry w.e.f November 25, 2010. Nalanda’s first Visitor, Dr Abdul J Kalam was deeply upset over the recruitment process. In a letter dated 4 July 2011, to External Affairs Minister S M Krishna in possession of The Sunday Standard, explaining why he couldn’t accept the position he wrote, “Having involved in various academic and administrative proceedings of Nalanda University since August 2007, I believe that the candidates to be selected/appointed to the post of Chancellor and Vice Chancellor should be of extraordinary intellect with academic and management expertise. Both the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor have to personally involve themselves full-time in Bihar, so that a robust and strong international institution is built”.
Orders Galore: At the time Dr. Sabharwal was officially claiming to be the Vice-Chancellor, Nalanda University, the MoS, External Affairs E Ahmed—in a statement to the Rajya Sabha on August 25— 2011, denied that any Vice Chancellor has been appointed. On two of the three office orders, Dr. Sabharwal had signed as ‘Vice Chancellor’ even before her confirmation.Copies were marked to the Registrar, Delhi University. The first is dated January 20, 2011 appointing Dr Anjana Sharma, Associate Professor of English, Delhi University as OSD (University Development) in Nalanda University. Incidentally Dr Sharma has co authored a book with Dr Sabharwal. Sources say the Ministry of Finance has not sanctioned the post. Sabharwal explains, “The decision to get them on board was taken during the last board meeting in Patna. Dr. Sharma joined us as the OS, in order to get the university functioning.” However, not even construction has started. Sabharwal also appointed Dr Padmakar Mishra, Deputy Registrar, Delhi University as OSD (Finance). Both appointments were made without issuing
public notifications, mandatory for government jobs.
Capital Affair: The VC, meanwhile, works out of an office in Delhi. The university’s Governing Board is in a fix over toilets for her and her OSD in the Rajgir Office. Dr Anjana Sharma is on record saying that since there was no proper toilet facility in Rajgir, they chose Delhi. In the building lease and other document, Delhi is marked as the Headquarters of the university in contravention of the Nalanda University Act, which clearly states that the HQ shall be located in the district of Nalanda only. Sabharwal explains, “You cannot start office functions or classes at Rajgir without all the facilities on campus. We are already under a lot of pressure from people who are asking us to take a temporary building and start some colleges but it does not work that way.”
As per the latest report of the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs, the projected capital expenditure for Nalanda university is `2153.8 crore ($431 million). Besides, the recurring cost for running the university will range from `32.69 crore the first year to `323.35 crore in the tenth year.