Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Subverting Special Recruitment Drive 2017 @ IIT Kanpur : How Nepotism Damaged Dalit Cause & Threatens IITK Survival


“Relaxing the rules for some and not for other SC/ST candidates would tantamount to a mockery of the great affirmative aims of a special recruitment drive.
Prof Kamal Poddar (another reserved category professor of IITK) in his submissions to National Commission for Scheduled Castes

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Prof. S. Saderla, had alleged in early 2018 that he was harassed and discriminated based on his caste by:
  1. Four senior faculty in particular;
  2. Board members of IIT Kanpur;
  3. The Faculty Forum of IIT Kanpur, as alleged in press reports;
  4. Finally, its Senate.
He alleges that he was knowingly, wilfully harassed by faculty of his own Department as well as other Departments because of his caste. Several actions taken or recommended based on his allegations by institutional mechanisms like NCSC, IIT Kanpur as well as the Police have currently been stayed by the Allahabad High Court. The then Officiating Director, Prof. Manindra Agrawal  and the Head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Prof. A.K Ghosh strongly believe that the allegation of discrimination is valid. As the then Officiating Director and Head of the Department, their decisions played a strong role in the recruitment of Dr. Saderla. It was their responsibility to ensure that due diligence was followed in the recruitment process. Both of them have repeatedly stated in various committees and newspaper reports that no procedural irregularity took place in the recruitment procedure. 

However, faculty, students, staff and even the faculty spouses on IIT Kanpur campus believe that this entire case is a witch hunt to punish the whistle blowers who pointed out serious lapses in the recruitment process, silence the voices of dissent, and settle personal scores. After two inquiries, two NCSC reports, and one FIR, and over fourteen months of intense stress, these four faculty members continue to stand by what they are convinced is the truth. Now, the entire Faculty Forum is fearlessly calling for the resignation of Prof. Manindra Agrawal and Prof. A.K Ghosh for abusing their positions and vitiating the atmosphere of the Institute. The Faculty Forum resolved that the conduct of Prof. A.K Ghosh and Prof. Manindra Agrawal should be investigated for violation of official conduct rules. These officials should be divested of their official responsibilities with immediate effect.

For last fourteen months, over several spurts of media outbursts, one has heard the story of harassment of Dr. Saderla and even his family in minute chronological details. However, for last fourteen months, not once have the four alleged faculty members- Profs. C.S.Upadhya, Sanjay Mittal, Rajiv Shekhar and Ishan Sharma spoken a word. They don’t make any press releases defending and justifying their actions, give no quotes to newspaper. There is not even that elusive line- XYZ was unavailable for comments, but, what does speak for them is the Indian judicial system. They have been given four stays in fourteen months by the Honourable High Court of Allahabad against the actions of NCSC, IIT Kanpur and now the police. More recently, one hears that the court has summoned data from IIT Kanpur in response to one of their writs. The data provided in their writs at the court, a few RTIs, and documents available on the IIT Kanpur website exposes some graver issues that need public attention because they raise serious concerns about the transparency, accountability and fairness of recruitment processes in Institutes of National Importance. Especially, when it involves a special recruitment drive for SC, ST, OBC, and PwD (Divyang).

Affirmative Action Recruitment Drive Vitiated through Nepotism

IIT Kanpur advertised the minimum eligibility qualification in the Special Recruitment Drive (advertisement number DF-4/2017) through which Dr. S. Saderla applied in 2017, as:
Ph.D. with first class or equivalent (in terms of grades) at the preceding degree in the appropriate branch, with a very good academic record throughout.

You can all read this on the website of IIT Kanpur. https://www.iitk.ac.in/dofa/current-openings.

It is claimed on several fora, and by the Officiating Director, Prof. Agrawal,  that Dr. S. Saderla whose Ph.D CPI is 7.0 meets the advertised  minimum eligibility criteria of the Special Recruitment Drive. But, on the other hand, the contention according to some faculty members was that 7.0 CPI is not equivalent to first class in IIT Kanpur and, therefore, the Department of Aerospace Engineering flouted minimum eligibility norms during the Special Recruitment Drive. Thus, the selection, led by Prof. Agrawal, provided relaxation selectively to a candidate who happened also to be the Masters and Ph. D. student of the Head of the Department, Prof. A.K Ghosh. As is apparent, providing relaxation selectively to a single candidate and not to others, is a discrimination against all other reserved category candidates. According to the ex-Liaison Officer of IIT Kanpur, relaxing the rules for some and not for other SC/ST candidates “tantamounts to a mockery of the great affirmative aims of a special recruitment drive.”  

It is surprising that for over fourteen months, an Institute of higher learning, having highly educated and decorated faculty and administrators has not been able to examine its own documents and practices to figure out whether or not 7.0 CPI is equivalent to first class. Even the two external committees led by Prof. Pathak and Hon’ble Justice Siddiqui have nothing to comment on this matter. The silence of the Board of Governors is even more deafening. IIT Kanpur would not be torn apart today, if someone could simply follow the norms laid down transparently in the grading scheme. Is this rocket science?

The PG manual (Institute approved Post Graduate manual prescribing academic norms which can be accessed here - https://www.iitk.ac.in/doaa/data/pgmanual-02Sep2015.pdf) of IIT Kanpur says the following: minimum CPI requirement for continuing in the Ph.D programme is 7.0.

That is, the minimum graduating CPI is 7. This implies that, if Dr. Saderla had a CPI of 6.99 he would not have been awarded a Ph.D degree by IIT Kanpur. The Ph.D CPI of  Dr. Saderla is exactly 7.0. Thus, Dr. Saderla barely met the minimum passing requirements of IIT Kanpur. Can a minimum passing mark be considered equivalent to a first class in any academic system, let alone an IIT?

Moreover, not only does Dr. Saderla not have first class in his Ph.D, he was on academic probation in the first semester of his M.Tech. He had a CPI of 6.0 — for which, as per the PG manual rules (- https://www.iitk.ac.in/doaa/data/pgmanual-02Sep2015.pdf), he should have been issued a warning letter from the then Head of the Department. According to the testimony of one of his M.Tech Professors, Dr. Saderla got a ‘D’ grade in his departmental course and his performance was not very good.

However, for the sake of an argument, even if it is assumed that the appointee was given relaxation (which was not advertised), the UGC guidelines permit only a 5% relaxation from the minimal requirement. In this case, even if we assume the minimal requirement to be Grade B (CPI 8) described as ‘Good’ in the IIT Kanpur academic system, then 5% of 8 is 7.6 CPI. Thus, Dr. Saderla, even after relaxation does not meet the minimal requirement, as his CPI is 7.0 in Ph.D.
Does IIT Kanpur, an Institute indebted to the Indian taxpayer not owe a clarification to ALL aspiring and desiring SC-ST candidates on what its minimum qualification requirements are?

Why does IIT Kanpur along with all other IITs simply not announce that 7.0 CPI is first class?

Why does IIT Kanpur not fill all its faculty posts with candidates having a CPI of 7.0 in their Ph.D?  Why is there just one amongst 400 faculty who has a CPI 7.0?

It is interesting to observe the record of the academic qualifications of General and Reserved category candidates selected in the Department of Aerospace Engineering since 2016. Here, it is important to emphasize that the advertised minimum eligibility requirements for General candidates is NOT different from the Reserved category candidates; at IIT Kanpur, they are one and the same. Check it out for yourself on the website - https://www.iitk.ac.in/dofa/current-openings.

Information revealed through RTIs clearly show (see table below) that no candidate -- General or Reserved category -- below a CPI of 8.5 has been shortlisted for final interviews by IIT Kanpur in the Department of Aerospace Engineering since 2016. The only exception being Dr. Saderla whose CPI is 7.0 – the minimum passing mark for a Ph. D. at IIT Kanpur! The aberration is unexplainable, unless the advertised minimum eligibility norms were indeed selectively relaxed for the student (Dr. Saderla) of the Head of the Department, Prof. A.K Ghosh. But, relaxation itself was not advertised. In fact, information obtained through RTIs makes it amply clear that IIT Kanpur did not state any relaxation policy in its advertisement.  

Educational Qualification (Converted to CPI out of 10.0 or percentage)
Candidate 1
M.Tech- 9.82
Ph.D- 9.84
Candidate 2
M.E- 9.8
Ph.D- 10.0
Candidate 3
M.Tech., 9.75
Candidate 4
M.Tech., 7.25
Ph.D- 7.0
Candidate 5
M.Tech., 8.7
Ph.D- 10.0
Candidate 6
M.Tech., 9.75
Candidate 7
M.Tech., 10.0
Candidate 8
M.Tech., 9.4
Ph.D- 9.6
Candidate 9
M.Tech., 8.79
Candidate 10
Ph.D- 8.5
Candidate 11
M.Tech., 91.3%
Ph.D- 9.0

Such aberrations were noticed by several faculty within the Department of Aerospace Engineering after Dr. Saderla joined the Institute. Eleven faculty of the Department expressed it in writing to the then Officiating Director, Prof. Manindra Agrawal. They said:

"We the undersigned faculty members of Aerospace Engineering would like to communicate to you our extreme displeasure at the way the department faculty advisory committee and Head ignored the faculty inputs and concerns and went ahead with their recommendations for the recent selections held in December 2017, to the posts of Assistant Professor in AE to the Institute committee."

How is anyone’s caste, creed, religion, gender or any other divisive trait attributed or interpreted in this communication?  It simply reflects an apprehension that could easily have been addressed by the then Officiating Director, Prof. Manindra Agrawal or the Head, Prof AK Ghosh. Unfortunately they didn’t/couldn’t do so. Their failure to address these lapses and take corrective measures has today cost IIT Kanpur its academic image that has been tattered in the media.

Instead of addressing the concerns raised by the Department faculty, the Officiating Director turned the entire case into a caste issue. Prof. Kamal Poddar is one of the eleven signatories of the letter mentioned above. He is a very senior and well respected faculty of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Few know that he himself belongs to a reserved category because IITs pride themselves in being concerned with merit alone, and nothing else. Belonging to the same department as Dr. Saderla, he has first-hand knowledge of this issue. He was also the Institute Liaison Officer for the SC-ST cell when Dr. Saderla was recruited, in which capacity he corresponded with the National Commission of Scheduled Castes on this matter.  He informed NCSC, in writing, that he did not find any caste issue in this episode. All interactions of Dr. Saderla with the faculty have been cordial. In fact, the Department faculty have hugged and welcomed Prof. Saderla.

To quote from Prof Kamal Poddar’s letter to NCSC,
Here is what I think has happened: Several faculty flagged the possibility of violation of advertised minimum eligibility norms and the possibility of conflict of interest as the Head (Prof. A. K Ghosh), who is also Prof. Saderla's adviser, being involved in all committees of the selection process. These issues were flagged privately to the Director (through Head), by email to only Board members, and over a restricted Senators only list. This was I repeat, only concern raised about the possibility of violation of advertised minimum eligibility norms and conflict of interest. Because, relaxing the rules for some and not for other SC/ST candidates would tantamount to a mockery of the great affirmative aims of a special recruitment drive. Nothing in these private notes/mails was specific to a person, leave alone person's caste.

Instead of listening to the testimony and evidence of its own officer (Office of the Liaison Officer is expected to assist NCSC in the investigation of complaints as mandated by DoPT), NCSC recommended in its minutes dated 10-04-2018 to remove him from his post. Of course, such an overreach and unfair judgement lacking any evidence by the NCSC could not escape the eyes of the Honourable High Court of Allahabad which immediately stayed the order. But, it still makes you wonder Who is harassing whom?  And is this a caste issue at all? considering that the NCSC prefers the version of one SC person (Dr. Saderla) over another (Prof. Poddar, LO, IIT Kanpur); the former backed by upper castes (the Officiating Director and Head of Department), to protect his recruitment while the latter questioning it, to protect his Department and his Institute from nepotism, and the wider SC, ST, OBC and PwD candidates from discrimination in the form of unequal opportunities. Clearly, this is not a caste issue but one of transparency and equity as Dr Poddar said, but for which he was rapped by the NCSC itself.

If Relaxation Was not Advertised, Was it Implemented?

If IIT Kanpur had clearly advertised in its recruitment policy that applicants with 7.0 CPI are eligible to apply, more SC-ST candidates would have applied in response to the special recruitment drive. All SC-ST candidates who had similar or better qualifications than that of Dr. Saderla, but did not apply for the post because they did not possess a First Class in their Ph.D or M.Tech have been deprived of an opportunity to apply, compete and be hired at IIT Kanpur. All eligible SC-ST candidates with a 7.0 CPI have been discriminated against by IIT Kanpur by following a selection criteria that was not advertised to the public. IIT Kanpur has discriminated against all eligible SC-ST candidates, by bending its selection norms and procedures to accommodate the student of the Head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Do all SC-ST candidates have to be students of HoD A.K. Ghosh and Director Agrawal to be hired in the IITs? 

This preferential and privileged treatment given to the student of Prof. A.K Ghosh in full support of Prof. Manindra Agrawal (who chairs the Selection Committee) seems even more discriminating when you look at the CPI of the other SC-ST candidates who applied during the Special Recruitment Drive. In response to an RTI (see Table 2), IIT Kanpur has admitted that there were four SC-ST candidates who applied in the Special Recruitment Drive for a position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Even though Dr. Saderla only had a CPI of 7.0, IIT Kanpur selected him over two other candidates who had a CPI of 8.2 and 8.25 in their Ph.D. The other SC-ST candidates were not even shortlisted, let alone interviewed and selected for the post despite their obviously better CPI than Dr. Saderla. One had heard of discrimination between General and Reserved category, but this is a novel blatant misuse of reservation by elite castes to discriminate and favour selected reserved category candidates only. IIT Kanpur has taken caste-based discrimination to yet another level. It has pitched a Dalit against another Dalit.

Table 2: Marks of all candidates who applied for the Special Recruitment Drive of IIT Kanpur
Bachelor of Engineering
Nagpur University
Master of Engineering
Shivaji University
Doctor of Philosophy
Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur
Bachelor of Technology
Rohilkhand University
Master of Technology
IIT Guwahati
Doctor of Philosophy
University of Liverpool
Bachelor of Technology
JNTU Hyderabad
Master of Technology
Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur
Doctor of Philosophy
Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur
Bachelor of Technology
Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University College of Engineering
Master of Engineering
Andhra University College of Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati

This fraudulent practice and the blatant misuse of the affirmative actions of the SC-ST reservation has also been recorded in the Supreme Court judgment in the District Collector, Vizianagram vs. M. Tripura Sundari Devi (1990(4) SLR 237. The Honourable Supreme Court states in its judgement

“It must further be realized by all concerned that when an advertisement mentions a particular qualification and an appointment is made in disregard of the same, it is not a matter only between the appointing authority and the appointee concerned.  The aggrieved are all those who had similar or better qualifications than the appointee or appointees but who had not applied for the post because they did not possess the qualifications mentioned in the advertisement. It amounts to a fraud on public to appoint a person with inferior qualifications in such circumstances unless it is clearly stated that the qualifications are relaxable.  No Court should be a party to the perpetuation of the fraudulent practice.”

Both Prof. Manindra Agrawal, Chair of the Selection Committee and Prof. A.K Ghosh, member of the selection committee which recruited Dr. Saderla in writing have confirmed that requirements of academic qualifications were indeed relaxed for Dr. Saderla.

Statement of Head, Aerospace Engineering:
Dr. Saderla has M.Tech CPI=7.25 (well above graduating CPI), PhD CPI=7.0 and thesis of good quality (paper from PhD=6). Yes for general candidate, we would not have short listed the candidate. This point was clearly mentioned in DFAC-IFAC meeting. This being special drive and for SC category DFAC-IFAC agreed to take it for interview.” (Emphasis added)

Statement of Officiating Director, IIT Kanpur on the Head’s statement:
“… the department would not shortlist a candidate with this record in case of general category candidates. However, given that this was recruitment in special category, some relaxation was done during shortlisting. In other words, he [Head, AE] is saying that the candidate does meet minimum qualifications, however, for general category candidates, shortlisting is done with more stringent norms which were not applied in this case.” (Emphasis added)

But, we all know by now that relaxation was not advertised, therefore, it could not have been selectively offered to the student of Prof. A.K Ghosh. This, as the Supreme Court judgement emphasised is a fraudulent practice for which both Prof. Manindra Agrawal and Prof. A.K Ghosh are liable to face a disciplinary inquiry. Of course, such an enquiry, if held impartially, will also nullify the Special Recruitment Drive, further implying that Dr. Saderla will have to re-apply whenever a fresh advertisement is floated by IIT Kanpur. With this as a background, does it surprise us anymore that all three- Prof. Manindra Agrawal, Prof. A.K Ghosh and Dr. Saderla are moving heaven and earth for last fourteen months to divert the attention of the entire nation, and now even the world, by spreading the news that the four faculty in particular, and the faculty of IIT Kanpur in general are casteist.

Prof. A K. Ghosh and Prof. Manindra Agrawal have played divisive politics twice. Firstly, they misrepresented the minimum eligibility qualifications to all reserved category candidates by advertising that First class and very good academic record is an eligibility requirement to be a faculty at IIT Kanpur. Due to this several Dalit candidates who had a CPI less than first class or an academic record which is not ‘very good’ could not apply for the post of Assistant Professor. They lost an opportunity of employment.

Secondly, between the candidates who applied, Prof. Ghosh selected Dr. Saderla, who was Dr. AK Ghosh’s very own student, despite the fact that the other SC/ST candidates had a higher CPI than Dr. Saderla. This divisive politics will break the movement for empowering Dalits by pitching one Dalit against another and also destroy the academic ethos of a great institution. And, of course, it will destroy IIT Kanpur, as we are in the process of witnessing.

Right to equality of opportunities in matters of public employment (Article 16) is the fundamental right of all  Indians. All eligible reserved category candidates have the right to avail equal opportunity to apply to IIT Kanpur. For this the entry level qualifications have to be the same as the ones that are advertised.  No other department in IIT Kanpur even shortlisted, let alone recruit an applicant with a 7 CPI in the Special Recruitment Drive. Either all departments, other than Aerospace Engineering did not follow the advertised recruitment guidelines and are therefore guilty of committing SC-ST discrimination. Or, Prof. A.K Ghosh flouted the advertised guidelines to facilitate the entry of his own student, Dr. Saderla, with the help and support of the Officiating Director, Prof. Manindra Agrawal. The nexus between the three is apparent. Indeed, given that both Prof. Ghosh and Prof. Agrawal have done their Ph. D. from IIT Kanpur, it would not have been lost upon them that a CPI of 7.0 is the minimum passing mark, not first class.

IIT Kanpur, and in particular Prof. Manindra Agrawal and Prof. A.K Ghosh owe an apology to the entire Dalit struggle of over a hundred years to gain equal opportunity to all Indians. Instead of correcting the centuries old social ill, they have wilfully subverted the reservation policy and systematically sabotaged Special Recruitment Drive to serve their own ends and people. Prof. Agrawal and Prof. Ghosh also owe an apology to their alma mater, IIT Kanpur, for destroying its name and reputation for fairness and high academics by their blatant nepotistic and casteist actions.

Sadly, the well-intentioned SC-ST Act lent itself to easy abuse in many cases even while genuine victims of caste oppression don’t often get justice thanks to poor implementation of laws meant for their empowerment. It is tragic that even in an institution of national eminence like the IITK a handful of influential & unscrupulous administrators ( all upper caste) are misusing the draconian SC/ST Act for their own selfish purposes even at the cost of destroying the lives of eminent colleagues. The saddest part of this saga is that they are doing so to cover their nepotism towards one SC student even while brazenly harming the careers of several better qualified SC/ST candidates.

First published in Swarajya, April 8, 2018

Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar
इक उम्र असर होने तक… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …اک عمر اثر ہونے تک

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