‘There Will Be a Revolt if the IIM Bill is Passed’ 

There is a revolt brewing among the hallowed halls of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), the country’s premier centres for post-graduate management education. Worried about losing their autonomy, many of them have come out united against a draft Bill proposed by the government to regulate the functioning of these institutions. The most direct and scathing opposition to the Bill has come from the most reputed of the IIMs, IIM- Ahmedabad.

IIM-A Chairman AM Naik, and director Ashish Nanda both spoke out strongly, claiming that the provisions of the Bill reduce the IIMs to mere government departments. The governing bodies of the various IIMs are discussing the Bill, drafted by the Human Resource Development Ministry.

“To us, it seems the impact of the bill may be in a direction opposite to what the government intends to achieve. The government’s vision is to encourage efficiency, innovation and quality. The centralisation effected by the bill would be deleterious to all those goals. The preamble of the bill outlines the government’s vision to empower institutions to attain standards of global excellence. But we worry the bill does not achieve that vision; in fact, it goes in the other direction,” Nanda told the Indian Express.

J.J. Irani, chairman of the board of IIM-Lucknow was quoted as saying, “If the bill is passed in the current format, then there will be a revolt in the IIM system.” Naik said, “The Bill gives sweeping powers with the government, making the institution only an operation centre, with all the major directions, diktats and approvals happening from Delhi. There will be no autonomy left with us if this bill will be implemented,”

The IIMs are India’s flagship management studies institutions. Registered as societies, the 13 existing IIMs give out a Post-Graduate Diploma in Management. 6 new IIMs are proposed to come up in the near future. With the increased intake of the new institutions, around 3,500 students will be admitted to the institutions, through the Common Admission Test (CAT), considered one of the most competitive exams in the world.

While the directors and chairmen of the Institutes at Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Lucknow, Bangalore, Kozhikode, and Indore have all expressed reservations against the Bill, some IIMs have supported it. BS Sahay, director of the fairly new IIM at Raipur said, “”What is wrong in being accountable? If we spend public money, we better be answerable.”

Cause for concern

The main causes for concern are section 35 and section 36 under the Indian Institute of Management Bill. Section 35 provides for the Central government with wide-ranging powers to make rules about appointments to the Institutes, and establishes the government’s powers over the Board of Institution.

The Board itself is to be constituted of members largely appointed by the government. The Chairman and Director are both to be appointed by the government, and so are many other members who will constitute the Board. Section 36 describes how regulations regarding the institutions are to be made, and entrusts the power to regulate the functioning of the institute to the government appointed board- subject also to the Central government’s approval.

The is also a provision for the creation of a Co-ordination Forum, headed by the Union Human Resources Minister, currently Smriti Irani. The co-ordination forum is similar to the expanded IIM Council proposed by ex-HRD minister Kapil Sibal, which the IIMs had successfully opposed.

The government has also been given power to make policy decisions, with section 21 reading,

“21. (1) Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this Act, the Institute shall, for the efficient administration of this Act, be bound by such directions on questions of policy, as the Central Government may give in writing to it from time to time.

(2) The decision of the Central Government whether a question is one of policy or not, shall be final.”

The preamble to the Bill states that the Bill is being proposed “with a view to empower these institutions to attain standards of global excellence.” The heads of the various IIMs though, disagree on the Bill having this impact. Naik said, “”PM wishes to have at least 25 world class institutions. But, this kind of regulation will only take us in an opposite direction. We expected more freedom. But, the bill, in its current form, will take away lots of freedom of the institutions and they won’t be autonomous.”

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson of IIM-Bangalore, argued that the Bill compromises authority and is completely against the government’s own maxim of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.

An official of the HRD ministry told The Times of India that previously Sibal’s ministry used the Bill successfully to force the IIMs to fall in line on issues regarding fees charged. “The threat worked and IIMs fell in line. During UPA-II, the bill was put in cold storage but it has resurfaced now,” the official told the newspaper.

This time too issues of autonomy over deciding fees and the appointment to posts are the key issues. Some have argued that a similar Bill has not adversely affected the IITs. However, even as the current Bill is being discussed, students at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) are protesting the appointment of a chairman who the students claimed ‘lacked the credential and vision’ to head the institution, and the students at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, are protesting the sacking of their director Bimal Roy.

In this context, the opposition by the IIMs is extremely important, as the HRD ministry is looking to push the Bill through, claiming that consultations have been held, and all stakeholders are on board.