Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nalanda University orphaned: Governing Board term expires

A constitutional crisis threatens the Nalanda University as the one year term of its Governing Board came to an end on November 25. But thanks to the lethargy of the authorities, no new governing board is not in sight.

As per Section 8 (2) of the Nalanda University Act, the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) was authorized to exercise and discharge the functions of the Governing Board for a period of one year or till such times when a new governing board came into existence, whichever was earlier. But whereas the Governing Board (earlier Nalanda Mentor Group) met thrice for board meetings during 2011 – New Delhi (February 22), Patna (July 6-7) and Beijing (October 14-15) it neither framed the statutes expected from it under Clause 28 (1) of the Act within six months nor worked on any succession plan.

The composition and tenure of the regular Governing Board is described in Clause 7 of the Nalanda University Act. It will include an officer from the MEA not below the rank of Secretary; two members representing Government of Bihar; one member not below the rank of Additional Secretary from the Ministry of Human Resource Development; three educationists or academicians to be nominated by the central government.

The Nalanda University was aware of the approaching deadline. But it was interested in scouting for types that will fill a particular slot. Five members from amongst the ‘member states’ (of the East Asia Summit) that would provide maximum financial assistance will get their places in the new Governing Board. Nalanda University publicized only the last type on their website. The obvious reasons were two a) to emphasize ‘international’ character of the University though the institution is being built with Indian taxpayers money b) second to get donations from aboard. It seems except for China no ‘member state’ has actually donated anything. And even China’s donation of $1 million can not be used immediately, but kept in reserve for building a ‘Chinese style University’ at Nalanda University campus. But China might end up getting five seats for three years for this peanut.

But as of date there is no Nalanda University Governing Board. Any further exercise of power by Amartya Sen-led group will be ultra vires to the Nalanda University Act, 2010. The Nalanda Mentor Group turned Governing Board has exercised power without authority, responsibility and accountability. First, the Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) was ‘appointed’ merely through a D.O. letter dtd June 27, 2007 by then Minister of External Affairs without any office order, gazette notification and press release. Its nine month life-span was extended to three year plus without any officer order or Gazette notification. Its recommended candidate was appointed as ‘Vice Chancellor-designate’ though the terms of conditions did not authorize them to search and select any person for the post.

Then NMG, on being converted in the Governing Board, co-opted Prof. Prapod Assavavirulhakarn, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand though it never had co-option powers. They also kept both George Yeo, former foreign Minister, Singapore and Prof. Wang Gugwu, National University, Singapore in the Boardwhereas the later was only a replacement candidate for the former in the NMG.

The Governing Board could not identity the Visitor of the University during the whole year. Whether it is the President of India or Prof. APJ Abdul Kalam? Both the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor are to be appointed by the Visitor as per Clause 15 of the Act. The new Governing Board must have Visitor, Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. At present there are none of them (Dr. Gopa Sabharwal is Vice Chancellor-designate though she claimed herself as Vice Chancellor until challenged).

But the most difficult legacy for the new Governing Board would be legal vacuum. There are no statutes- framed and approved- from which a new Governing Board can derive its powers.

The latest crisis is another example of inept handling of the project. The Governing Board was more interested in travelling abroad, delivering flowery speeches and recruiting cronies but did no spadework for the University.

Naturally it would now look towards the government (of India) to salvage the project. Under Clause 41 (1) the government has the power to remove difficulty the project might run into. But the government’s action as per the clause must be consistent with the provisions of the Act, and must be published in the gazette of India. Any such order, however, must be placed before Parliament as soon as it is passed. Extending the term of the older Governing Board would entail an amendment of the Act.
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