Nearly 50 Institutes of National Importance (INI), including top IITs, have no full-time chairpersons, some of them for over eight years now. Seven IITs, 22 NITs and 20 IIITs are among the institutes without full-time chairpersons. In as many as 10 institutes, no chairperson has been appointed since 2014-15, government replies to Right to Information (RTI) queries.
Appointment of chairpersons to INIs like IITs, NITs, IIITs is nomination-based and the prerogative of the government. The chairperson’s position is expected to bring in checks and balances and ensure policy and project approvals are duly debated in the Board of Governors before final approvals. However, in the absence of a full-time chairperson, the position is handed over on additional charge, often to the government or to the chairperson of another institute.
IIT Delhi has been without a full-time chairman since January 2019 after the then chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla’s term ended. IIT Bombay was without a chairperson since April 2019. Sharad Saraf, who is chairman at IIT Jammu, was given additional charge of IIT Bombay only last year.
Since November 1, 2015, IIT Gandhinagar has functioned without a chairman. IIT Roorkee, has been without a chairman since May 2017; IIT Ropar has been headless since September 2017. IIT Mandi has had no full-time chairperson since October 2020 while IIT Kharagpur joined the club in June 2022.
The NITs tell a similar story. 22 NITs have no chairperson helming them. The vacancy has been open since early 2015 for NITs Jamshedpur, Raipur and Warangal. NITs in Delhi, Sikkim, Srinagar, Nagpur and Surathkal had vacancies from 2017 to 2021.
The longest waitlist, however, is at the Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIIT)s, 20 of which are currently headless. IIIT Tiruchirapalli and IIIT Kota, both run on PPP mode, have been without a chairperson since July 1, 2013. The chairperson’s position has been vacant at IIIT Una and Sonepat since July 2014 while positions at IIIT Lucknow and IIIT Senapati are vacant since July 2015.
In 12 of the 20 IIITs without chairpersons, the position is being held for years now by the secretary to the Department of Higher Education of the Union education ministry.
In case of some IIITs like Allahabad and Gwalior, the charge is being held by a chairperson of another institute – chairpersons, Board of Governors, IIT Patna and IIIT Dharwad, respectively.
To queries on these pending vacancies, the Union education ministry has maintained in parliamentary replies that nomination and appointment of chairpersons is a ‘continuous process’. A former senior official from the ministry familiar with the issue said the vacancies were on account of an endless process of screening possible candidates. “While the end all at the government level may be just to find the best possible candidate, the lack of any deadline obviously ends up impacting institutes and depriving them of a more well-rounded decision-making process,” the official told.
A former head of institute told that vacancies pending for years at institutes of national importance showed the ‘casual’ approach of the government on an important issue. “It is just not given the due seriousness. So often, these institutes have written to the government and even suggested names, but no decision has been taken. It must be understood that a chairperson’s role is important as they not only bring a neutral and objective perspective to the BoG but often also helps forge industry collaboration, bring in their network and connections which help an institute grow,” he told.
Often governments bring in leading industrialists and scientists as chairpersons to help institutes formulate visionary policies, amplify networks, and encourage academia-industry collaboration.
However, prolonged vacancy often leads to the institute director taking over the additional charge which is not usually considered desirable given that there is built-in conflict of interest with the same person holding the top two posts of the institute.
In other circumstances, top government officials either from the education ministry or the state government hold additional charge as chairpersons. The same, however, is not likely to do much justice given their other duties, an academic pointed.
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