Washington, DC/Delhi – Incredible India tag proved its incredibility under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government as the federal government included a yet to be born Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute as one of the six “Institutions of Eminence.”
Announcing the decision, Prakash Javadekar, Indian Federal Minister for Human Resource Development, Government of India tweeted; “The #InstituteofEminence are important for the country. We have 800 univ, but not a single university in top 100 or even 200 in the world ranking. Today’s decision will help achieve this.”
Javadekar further tweeted, “Improving ranking needs sustained planning, complete freedom & public institutes getting public funding. This is the commitment of @narendramodi govt to not to interfere but to allow institute to grow the way they should grow.”
Doyens of academia, civil society activists and major political parties voiced their surprise and opposition to such a mockery of government powers to highlight an institution which hasn’t yet seen the light of the day. There was no mincing of words on Twitter as the accusing fingers were pointed on the Modi government of “favoring” Reliance Industries Ltd’s chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani and his wife Nita Ambani.
In a tweet, Congress Party noted, “The illusionary Jio Institute which is yet to see the light of day has been declared as an ‘eminent’ institute. The Govt needs to clarify the basis of classification for granting such a status.”
Strongly opposing the move by the Modi government, the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) condemned “this move of the government which cannot be construed as anything but brazen cronyism” to accord “Institution of Eminence” status to the Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute.
Noting that “it takes great perseverance and creativity to earn that tag of eminence,” the CPI (M) statement added, “It is bewildering that the Jio Institute, which is non-existent and notional, has been given that status solely on a ‘drawing board’ projection.”
In a public post on the Facebook, Partha P Chakrabarti, Director of oldest Indian Institutes of Technology, IIT Kharagpur expressed surprise saying, “Very Surprised to see the results declared. Only three public institutes of India meet up the criteria!! In my opinion so many of those not selected (including the three other older IITs) are clearly much better than the other three private institutions selected in any of national and international rankings or any accepted metrics of quality.”
There was an avalanche of comments on Chakrabarti’s post about this list from alumni and others, some of whom are globally acknowledged in their professions.
Highlighting the irony of nonexistent Jio institute, one comment read: “Trying to find the ‘famous’ JIO institute on web but no luck till now. If anyone finds it, please ping me the address so that i can get a feel of its eminence.”
In a report, quasi-governmental Indian news agency PTI, cited Ayesha Kidwai, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi as saying, “It (Jio institute) doesn’t have a campus, a website or any alumni and it has left behind prominent IITs as well as private players like Ashoka University and OP Jindal Global University. It is yet to be established but will already be marketed as a world-class institution by the government. Can’t we see the conflict of interest?”
Defense of Selection
With a storm of criticism from all walks of life globally from Indians and Indian diaspora, the Modi government kept their silence while the University Grants Commission (UGC), which carried out the selection, defended the move saying the institution (Jio) was selected under rules for greenfield category for new or proposed institutions.
“At this juncture, there’s only a Letter of Intent. They’re not same as established institutions. For a greenfield institution, they should have land, equipment, building, staff, etc and for that, they need a lead time,” head of the empowered expert committee N Gopalaswami said as cited by news agency IANS. “So they have been given three years’ time. It’s only after that they will be given the status,” the former chief election commissioner added.
Although the University Grants Commission (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017, the ministry was to select 20 IoEs — 10 public and 10 private — that will enjoy complete academic and administrative autonomy, the committee picked the six institutions that, according to the panel, showed the potential to find a place among top 500 of global rankings.
The government granted the status to Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, IIT-Bombay and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru, in the public sector, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education, BITS Pilani and Jio Institute in the private sector.
The Union HRD ministry will grant financial assistance up to Rs 1,000 crore ($10 billion approximately) to the three public institutions in the next five years under the scheme but the private institutes will not be eligible for government funding.