Institutes of Eminence

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 aluminia 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.

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.

Rafale Deal – For Another Crony Ambani

The Rafale fighter jet deal with France is the mother of all defence scandals, making Bofors “look like peanuts”, as Prashant Bhushan observed.

What are the facts?

The previous deal that the UPA Government was making involved buying 126 Rafale jets for Rs 54,000 crore – 18 of which would be in a ready-to-fly condition while the rest would be manufactured by the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) using technology that Dassault would be obligated to transfer. This deal was cancelled, and overnight the new deal signed by the Modi Government instead obtained 36 jets (in a ready-to-fly condition) at Rs 58,000 crore, minus the transfer technology. Anil Ambani, owner of the Reliance Defence Limited (RDL) company, registered just 2 weeks before the deal, accompanied Prime Minister Modi on his France trip and secured the partnership with Dassault instead of experienced public sector company HAL. And just 2 weeks after the deal was formally signed in October 16, the new RDL got a whopping Rs 20k Cr worth in offsets of the deal!

So – let’s sum up this crony tango.

Just as Reliance Foundation Institution of Education and Research (RFIER) was registered just in time to snag the ‘Institute of Eminence’ gift from the Modi Government, the Reliance Defence Limited (RDL) was registered just in time to snag the defence production partnership as part of the Rafale deal freshly negotiated by the Modi Government. Why was the inexperienced two-week-old RDL preferred over the experienced public sector HAL? Why did the new deal cost India three times the cost negotiated by the previous Government? Why did the new deal lack the transfer technology which was part of the previous deal? How did Ambani’s RDL get the lion’s share of offsets after the deal?

Bristling at questions in Parliament over the Rafale deal, the Modi government claims that revealing price details in a Defence deal would impact national security. This is rubbish. The Rafale Deal secrecy clause cites the 2008 security agreement between India and France which is aimed at protecting “classified information” which “could impact security and operational capabilities of the defense equipment” – it does not prevent disclosure of the sale price. The French Government also has made it clear that the Modi Government is free to tell the Opposition details of the price.

Also, the Modi Government’s ‘secrecy’ plea is being trotted out late. Earlier, the same Government had, soon after the deal, given defence journalists a detailed briefing on the price break-up, claiming that the Rafale aircraft cost just Rs 670 Cr and the remaining more than Rs 900 Cr was for some mysterious “India specific upgrades” of weapon systems. The MoS Defence had also revealed the price in Parliament in November 2016. Prashant Bhushan compared this claim to saying “that your car car cost 10L but the seat costs 20L.” It was only when these absurd claims began to be scrutinised and questioned that the Government pleaded secrecy!

Tainted Officers in CBI

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.