Girish Chandra Tripathi, the controversial vice chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), has now gone on indefinite leave. It turns out he was not only a disaster for the university but was also eroding the credibility of the reputed Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) on campus as chairperson of the board of governors of IIT-BHU. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj recently mentioned the IITs among India’s achievements at her speech at the United Nations General Assembly but this vice chancellor could care less.
Tripathi’s name was not there in the panel of prospective appointees for the post of chairman of the board of governors of IIT at BHU, yet he was foisted upon IIT by Smriti Irani, the then human resource development minister. Irani’s educational qualification is suspect and Tripathi’s academic record is dubious, with no research publication in his name to date.
As mediocre people meddled in the affairs of academic institutions of national and international importance, matters were bound to boomerang at some point.
Three days after the incident of sexual harassment on the BHU campus on September 21, which snowballed into a major controversy, Tripathi tried to regularise the appointment of O.P. Upadhyay, convicted of sexual misconduct by a Fiji court, as the medical superintendent of the hospital on campus. It was because of his attempts to push such cases of inappropriate candidates that Michel Danino, professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research, resigned from the university’s executive council in November 2015.
Tripathi treated the university as his fiefdom and the IIT a toy to play with. It turns out that he had not finalised the minutes of the meeting of the IIT board of governors held on July 8, 2016, despite over a year having elapsed. Until these minutes are passed, the next meeting cannot take place. Other members of the board suggested he call a meeting to finalise the minutes. But Tripathi remained incommunicado on this issue.
As a result of Tripathi’s shortsightedness, important decisions are pending implementation. The appointments of five deans at IIT – academic affairs, student affairs, research and development, alumni affairs and faculty affairs – has been put on hold even as acting deans manage the institute’s day-to-day affairs. Besides the director, the deans play an important role in the running of IITs. Several appointments, especially security related, are also awaiting the finalisation of board decisions. But the most serious damage caused to the IIT is that the democratic functioning of administration has been replaced by caprice. While in the normal course decisions were taken in board meetings and implemented, now over the last year or so, every decision has been personally approved by the vice chancellor as chair of the board, with the other members having no say.
According to the rules, at least two meetings should be held every year. Only a special meeting was held in June 2017 (to approve pay scales) in which Tripathi refused to discuss the approval of the minutes of the July 2016 meeting, saying that a special meeting was called to discuss only a specific matter. He almost held the institution to ransom.
Now that he has been made to proceed on indefinite leave, the IIT board of governors has been left in a limbo. It is baffling that it did not prick Tripathi’s conscience, despite subscribing to a “nationalist” ideology, that he was hampering the functioning of an institute which is a symbol of national pride.
Most IIT boards are chaired by industry leaders who are there because of their vision and dynamism. The board of IIT Kanpur is headed by R.C. Bhargava, the chairman of Maruti Udyog Ltd.; IIT Delhi by Kumar Mangalam Birla, the chairman of Aditya Birla Group; IIT Mumbai by Dilip Shanghvi, the chairman of Sun Pharma; IIT Kharagpur by Sanjiv Goenka, the chairman of RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group; IIT Chennai by Pawan Goenka, the managing director of Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd and IIT Roorkee may have a new chairman in Anil Kakodkar. Can we imagine any of them sitting on minutes of a board meeting for over a year?
Let us compare Tripathi with the names that were originally proposed by the IIT board for its chairperson. The panel included Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, former IIM Bengaluru director and current Ambedkar University vice chancellor Pankaj Chandra, Bengaluru, RBI director Kiran Karnik, Sanjay Dhande, former director of IIT Kanpur, and Narendra Ahuja, formerly a professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
All have established themselves and built their credibility over years. What was Tripathi’s claim to hold the prestigious position of chair of such a board?
Tripathi has been so incompetent at his job that even those involved in elevating him to a position for which he was not deserving must be taken to task.