True to form, HRD Minister, Prakash Javdekar, stirred up controversy when he tweeted the names of the six institutes chosen to receive the prestigious “Institutes of Eminence” tag. Among the names was the elusive Jio Institute - which until now had only been referred to once, in a speech by Nita Ambani in March 2018, where she expressed her interest in setting up a world class university. The controversy here is simple, the Jio Institute does not exist, yet the HRD Ministry & it’s Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) still believe it is an Institute of Eminence. What exactly drove them to this conclusion? We would hope the PM could provide an explanation, alas, waiting for him to speak is like waiting for the benefits of Demonetisation - pointless & disappointing.
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In response to the growing anger on digital & news platforms, the HRD Ministry offered an explanation; Clause 6.1 of the UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulation 2017, provides for a new proposal to establish an institution to be considered under this project. Hence, an entirely separate category of applications have been invited from the sponsoring organisations for setting up of new or Greenfield projects. However, in order to be accepted as a Greenfield project, the institution must provide proof of the following parameters: availability of land for construction, available funds for the project, a core team with very high qualifications & wide experience and a strategic vision plan with clear milestones & action plan. While funding and availability of land are clearly not an issue for the RIL sponsored Jio Institute, nothing is known of its core team or strategic vision plan. They have not made public their choice of chancellor or vice chancellor.
The EEC, headed by former Chief Election Commissioner, N. Gopalaswami - and current head of RSS-affiliated Vivekananda Educational Society - chose to ignore the National Institutional Ranking Framework’s scores, according to which Manipal & BITS Pilani came in at 18 & 26 respectively. Though the IITs chosen were ranked 3 & 4, the exclusion of other top scoring public and private universities is likely to cause controversy.
A number of prominent academics have questioned the Ministry’s decision to award a non-existent institute such a prominent status. The chosen institutes have been gaged as the most likely to make the list of top universities in the world.
While the Jio Institute still remains a figment of the Ambani’s imagination, it brings up a curious question: How deeply entrenched are the Ambanis in the government machinery that they can so blatantly control the outcome of ‘independent committees’?
The close relationship between PM Modi & the Ambanis is known to all, and we do not doubt it played a significant role in the inclusion of Jio Institute to the list of Institutes of Eminence. One can only hope now that the PM can finally attain his elusive degree in “entire political science” - maybe Jio Institute offers it along with other electives like crony capitalism & destroying democracy 101.