An RTI petition revealed that people in charge of institutions like UGC and NAAC were awarded honorary doctorate degrees by the very same public universities they were in charge of.
New Delhi: A Right to Information petition seeking data from 470 public universities for the last 20 years (1997 to 2017) has revealed that hundreds of politicians and bureaucrats were awarded honorary doctorate degrees by the very same public universities they were in charge of in this period, according to an Indian Express investigation.
The list includes people in charge of various institutions – from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) – an autonomous body established by the UGC to “assess and accredit institutions of higher education in the country” – to Union ministers heading the human resources development ministry.
The analysis shows that 160 public universities and institutions awarded nearly 2,000 honorary doctorates to approximately 1,400 people.
Among those who received degrees are two serving presidents during this period, Pranab Mukherjee and Pratibha Patil, who were visitors occupying top positions at central universities. Mukherjee received three degrees from the universities of Goa, Assam, Silchar and Calcutta, and declined one from IIT Kharagpur, while Patil received three degrees from Padmavathi Medical College (University), Tirupathi, North Maharashtra University, Jalgaon and Goa University, the RTI revealed.
Scientist and former Indian Institute of Science director Goverdhan Mehta, who was the chairman of the NAAC executive committee between 2006 and 2012, received 18 honorary doctorates from public universities across the country during the time. Mehta has an academic PhD from Pune University.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Mehta said there was no conflict of interest in accepting the degrees. “I received many honorary doctorates before and after NAAC. I did receive some honorary doctorates while I was with NAAC, but I never received a doctorate from a university where the evaluation was done by me. I don’t think there is any conflict of interest.”
The list also includes economist Sukhdeo Thorat, PhD from JNU, who was UGC chairperson between 2006 and 2011, during which time he received seven honorary doctorates; and Ketan Desai, who was head of the Medical Council of India when he received an honorary doctorate from the Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University in 2009. In 2010, the CBI arrested him on charges of corruption.
The Indian Express report reveals a similar pattern when it comes to public agricultural universities. Here, the people involved included S. Ayyappan, who was the secretary of the department of agricultural research and education (DARE) under the Ministry of Agriculture from 2010 to 2016, when he received five honorary doctorates from different agriculture and veterinary science universities, as well as his predecessor Mangla Rai, who received two honorary doctorates during her tenure. Rai’s predecessor, R.S. Paroda, who was secretary of DARE from 1992 to 2001 also received two honorary doctorates during his tenure.
While Ayyappan told the Indian Express, “These degrees are conferred for some achievements. But I would not like to comment anymore on this issue now,” Rai admitted there were instances of “misuse” of powers granted to universities to confer degrees.
The list goes on and on. Five honorary doctorates were given to technocrat Sam Pitroda while he was the chairman of the National Knowledge Commission between 2005 and 2009, and advising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on educational and research institute policies.
Among former HRD ministers who received honorary doctorates are Murli Manohar Joshi (two between 1998 and 2004), late Arjun Singh (one between 2004 and 2009), and Daggubati Purandareswari (two between 2006 and 2011). Purandareswari joined the BJP in 2014.
The honorary degrees broadly come under three categories – Degree of Doctor of Letters (D Litt) for literature, philosophy, art and music, and for services rendered to the cause of education; Degree of Doctor of Science (D Sc) for science and technology or for planning, organising or developing scientific and technological institutions; Degree of Doctor of Laws (LL D) for lawyers, judges or jurist and statesmen and for contributions to public good.