New Chancellor, Nalanda Board Likely by July 2015

The government is getting ready to appoint a new chancellor of Nalanda University and may even move to reconstitute its governing board after Nobel laureate Amartya Sen left in a huff a few weeks ago.

Sources said MEA and the President's office received the report (minutes) of the January 13 meeting of the university's governing board only last week. The meeting had put forward a choice of either an extension to Professor Sen as chancellor, or to constitute a new panel. The government may have given Sen an extension, but he called it quits alleging government interference in academia. MEA had said that Sen was "jumping the gun".

The Nalanda Mentor Group said they had sent the relevant portions of the 'minutes' to MEA and the President, but both decided to wait for the full report and not take a decision based on excerpts.

Sources said a new chancellor will be appointed by July when Sen's term ends. The government may also reconstitute the governing board. The Nalanda Act, which was passed in 2010, stipulated that the governing board be appointed within a year. However, the board is yet to be formally constituted which, source said, is a violation of the Act.

For the past four years, the Nalanda Mentor Group has been functioning as the governing board. All this while, the government extended the provision of the Nalanda Act on the governing board every year on the ground that its constitution was taking a "lot of time". On the fourth occasion, it was extended indefinitely. The Nalanda Mentor Group wanted to amend the Nalanda Act to giving itself the power to nominate members on the new board. The UPA government refused to push through the amendment.

The Modi government reportedly contacted other contributing governments to seek fresh nominations to reconstitute the governing board. The current board took umbrage at this. Board member Sugata Bose (TMC MP) said in an interview, "We discovered that the government had written letters to four or five foreign governments seeking to reconstitute the board. And nobody on the board knew. You might call it a lack of courtesy, but it is still in violation of the Nalanda University Act (2010)."

A new board, said sources on condition of anonymity, may also reconsider the vice-chancellor's appointment. Gopa Sabharwal is vice chancellor-designate of the university and will have to be formally appointed. Sabharwal's name was forwarded, along with Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Ramchandra Guha, by Sen to then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2009, and she was chosen. The Nalanda Act was passed only in 2010.

When questioned, Sen had hotly defended the appointment in several interviews. But the appointment has been a source of controversy with questions raised about her capabilities as well as her salary, which many have objected to, including the CAG.

In an interview, Sugata Bose said the Nalanda Act contained a "bad clause" which should have been amended. The Nalanda board recommended a set of amendments to the Nalanda Act in 2013, which did not go through, largely because of sustained opposition from various arms of the government, including MEA and ministry of finance. The proposed amendments were: the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) should recommend five academicians to the new board, the government should bear the operating cost of the university in perpetuity and retrospective regularization of the salaries of vice chancellor, Gopa Sabharwal and Anjana Sharma. By this time, these salaries had been questioned by CAG's informal reports.

MEA, which has overseen the project since its inception, has had simmering problems with the Nalanda project for several years now. The issues ranged from the constitution of the governing board to transparency and accountability. In 2013, the government decided to probe more closely the operations of the Nalanda University project, because MEA was coming under fire for the repeated delays. After numerous consultations, the government decided to appoint an official who would be involved in the administration of the project. The Nalanda administration, which was functioning out of New Delhi, was persuaded to move to Rajgir only in 2014.

Government sources said the real hero of the Nalanda project is actually Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who, they said, went out of his way to be the facilitating state government. But in recent years, Nitish had complained to New Delhi about mounting problems with the project. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who in many ways was the brain behind the university project, refused to be the first Visitor in 2011, saying he believed the job should belong to the President of India.
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