The decision of the Empowered Experts Committee (EEC) set up by the Modi Government’s Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) to award the ‘Institute of Eminence’ tag to the as yet non-existent Jio Institute of Reliance Foundation has underscored the brazen cronyism that marks the Modi model of governance.
Facts suggest that MHRD scripted the Rules for the ‘Greenfield Category’ (for proposed institutes which are yet to be set up) specifically to ensure that none but the Ambanis could qualify. In a classic case of conflict of interest, Vinay Sheel Oberoi was an MHRD Secretary at the time the IoE scheme (then called the ‘World Class Institute’ scheme) was conceived, and was then part of the eight-member Jio team led by Mukesh Ambani that made its presentation before the EEC!
The crony tango between the Modi Government and the Ambanis is even clearer when one notes that the Reliance Foundation Institution of Education and Research (RFIER) was registered as a company on the very same day that the UGC issued a press release inviting proposals for the ‘Institution of Eminence’.
The Rules notified for IoEs were tailor-made to exclude most other institutes and ensure that only the Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute would be eligible. One rule stipulated that the individual members of the “sponsoring organisation” of the proposed Institute must have a collective net worth of over Rs 50 billion. How many individuals barring a handful like Mukesh Ambani can boast of such a humongous “collective net worth”? The other Rule stipulated that the organisation must have a proven track record of “translating plans into real achievements in any field (not necessarily in the field of higher education, but preferably in it)” – this wording ensured that Reliance, in spite of having zero experience in higher education, could stake a claim for ‘Eminence’ in the field!
Meanwhile, another noted crony of the Modi Government and top funder of the BJP, the Vedanta group, got a one month extension of the deadline to apply for the “Institution of Eminence” tag for a proposed University in Odisha (the same state where a huge people’s movement finally defeated the Vedanta project to set up an alumina refinery that would destroy the Niyamgiri mountain).
The private institutions on which the IoE title is conferred will get ‘autonomy’ – i.e the freedom to charge exorbitant fees and avoid implementing reservations for oppressed castes. The Dhirubhai Ambani International School at Mumbai charges Rs.2.05 lakhs per annum for LKG to Class 4th and Rs.9.65 lakhs per annum for class 11th and 12th. Such steep fees have ensured that the school caters only to the children of the super-rich.
The entire process whereby the IoEs have been selected (both the ‘Greenfield’ ones as well as existing public sector institutes. The EEC made the selections, admittedly without making any field visits or tabular appraisal and rankings of the various higher education institutions, as mandated by the UGC guidelines for selection.
In 2014, a landmark Judgment the Supreme Court had declared the Coal allocations between 1993 and 2009 to be illegal, arbitrary, non-transparent and were devoid of any procedure. Surely the selection of the Institutes of Eminence is also arbitrary and non-transparent and therefore illegal.
Ironically at the same time that a non-existent Jio Institute is being declared ‘Eminent’, existing Universities and IITs that provide good quality education for students from deprived and struggling backgrounds, are being branded ‘anti-national’ by the Government of India. The Jawaharlal Nehru University, for instance, has a Sanghi Vice Chancellor who is destroying the University’s decision-making bodies and democratic ethos. The illegal fiats of the JNU VC are defended in Court by none other than the Additional Solicitor General of the Government of India. The ASG, defending punishment of students who failed to sign illegal and ludicrous attendance registers, asked a judge of the Delhi High Court ‘How can you pass an order’ staying the move! The ASG is putting the weight of the Government behind such destructive policies that are rejected by faculty and students alike in India’s best higher education institutions, and trying to intimidate the judiciary to fall in line.
Cronyism is nothing new for the Modi Government. BJP-ruled Jharkhand amended its energy policy in 2016 to benefit a single company owned by Modi’s crony and funder Gautam Adani, allowing it to charge a higher price than what other thermal projects bill the state. An audit report by the office of Jharkhand’s state accountant has found that the agreement with Adani amounts to “preferential treatment” resulting in “undue benefits” to the company. The Adanis and Ambanis are allowed to get indefinite extensions on loan repayment deadlines, and have laws and rules tailor-made to benefit them, while the Nirav Modis and Mallyas are allowed to plunder public sector banks, default on loans and get smooth passage to flee the country with their loot.
Modi’s Minister of state of power, coal and new and renewable energy Piyush Goyal sold the entire stock of a company he and his wife owned, at nearly 1000 times the face value, to a group firm owned by Ajay Piramal – a billionaire with substantial interests in the infrastructure sector including power. Goyal failed to declare this transaction in the mandatory statement of assets and liabilities that he made as a Minister to the PMO in 2014 and 2015. A company owned by BJP President Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah increased its turnover 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Modi as PM.
Projects like the Sterlite copper smelting plant and the Chennai-Salem Green Expressway also raise questions of possible corruption: why are corporations like Vedanta, Jindal and Adani, known to be cronies of the Modi Government, allowed to violate laws and rules and set up destructive projects?
Journalists covering these instances of blatant cronyism are threatened with defamation, while much of the ‘Godi Media’ (lapdog media) plays diversion tactics, running stories to fan up communal prejudices and fake news against minorities, activists and opposition leaders rather than doing their job of demanding answers from the Government on such corruption.
Who will probe cases of corruption? Under Modi, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has taken the unprecedented step of writing to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) suggesting that the Bureau is being asked to induct officers who are tainted and “under examination by the CBI as suspects/accused in criminal cases under investigation with the Bureau”! The CBI has pointed out that its second most senior officer, Special Director Rakesh Asthana is himself under the scanner in several cases and therefore “cannot be consulted for inducting officers into CBI” in the absence of the Director Alok Verma. The question is – why is the Government keen to make the CBI induct officers who are suspected or accused of crimes?
In the absence of a diligent and vigilant media, it is up to the people of India to expose and resist the Company Raj of the Modi Government which has become synonymous with cronyism and corruption.