Education

Economist at IIT-Kanpur Accused of Plagiarism

One article by Somesh Kumar Mathur has copied the entirety of a paper by Jean Drèze. His other work also includes several instances of plagiarism.

The faculty building at IIT Kanpur. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The faculty building at IIT Kanpur. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: Somesh Kumar Mathur, an associate professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has been found to have plagiarised extensively in his academic writings.

Mathur’s plagiarism first came to light after economist Jean Drèze noticed that one of Mathur’s published articles was almost exactly the same as one he had written and published in the Economic and Political Weekly in April 2000 entitled ‘Militarism, Development and Democracy’. Mathur published his article, ‘Casualities of Militarization in the Contemporary World: Democracy and Development’ in the journal Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy in 2001.

When put through the plagiarism-checking tool Copyscape, 98% of Mathur’s article (including the bibliography) was similar to Drèze’s. A section on Kashmir that did not figure in Drèze’s paper had been added.

As is the case with several instances of academic plagiarism still rampant in Indian academia, this wasn’t the only time Mathur used someone else’s work as his own. In 2002, he published a review of Gautam Gupta, Manash Ranjan Gupta and Bhaswar Moitra’s Issues in Development Economics entitled ‘Policies and Markets’ in the Economic and Political Weekly. The last paragraph of this review is taken verbatim from the introduction of Debraj Ray’s Development Economics, published by Princeton University Press.

A conference paper presented at the ‘32nd General Conference of the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth’, Boston, US in August 2012, titled ‘A Modified Index of Economic and Social Well-being Using Multivariate Factor Analysis: An Indian case’ and co-authored by Mathur and Shweta Sharma, also followed this pattern when put through Copyscape. This paper, though, was taken from multiple sources. A section of the paper (more than 300 words) was taken from the Wikipedia page on ‘Welfare economics’. Another section, on human development in Gujarat, lifted a short Indian Express report almost entirely. Another three paragraphs of the conference paper, on types of social indicators, are taken from Andrew Sharpe’s 1999 background paper for Canadian Policy Research Networks, ‘A Survey of Indicators of Economic and Social Well-being’.

Other instances

  • Indian IT industry: a performance analysis and a model for possible adoption, 2007 (Link)

Original sources:

  1. India’s Story of Success: Promoting the Information Technology Industry by Sarala V. Nagala, 2005, Stanford Journal of International Relations (Link)
  2. Brief: Connecting Agricultural Sector through Electronic Governance Models : 2 Lessons by Vikas Nath, 2005, The Digital Governance Initiative (Link)
  • Growth Accounting for Some Selected Developing, Newly Industrialized and Developed Nations from 1966-2000: A Data Envelopment Analysis, 2005 (Link)

Original sources:

  1. Technological Change, Technological Catch-up, and Capital Deepening: Relative Contributions to Growth and Convergence by Subodh Kumar and R. Robert Russell, 2002, The American Economic Review (Link)

Impact

Drèze brought the first two instances of plagiarism to the notice of the editors of EPW and Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy as well as the authorities at IIT-Kanpur.

When contacted by The Wire and asked to respond to the charges against him, Mathur said in an email, “These are baseless allegations for an article that I wrote 15 years back when I was a student at JNU. If at all some ideas have been taken then Prof Dreze work has ben acknowledged. In fact I personally gave copy of my articles to Prof Jean Dreze at the Delhi School of Economics. … I hope it clarifies (sic)”.

In response to these allegations, Drèze told The Wire, “He is actually incriminating himself by denying the charge. Had he admitted plagiarism and attributed it to oversight on the part of a PhD student, he might have had a chance to redeem himself. But now the case for strict action is even stronger.” 

Drèze added that he felt it was important for academic authorities to take cases of plagiarism seriously and initiate action against plagiarists, and he hoped that IIT-Kanpur would not take these complaints lightly.

EPW has since put a disclaimer on the web version of Mathur’s book review, along with an apology for carrying plagiarised material. “While we cannot do anything about the print version that went out years ago, we have edited the web edition to reflect what Jean Drèze has brought to our notice,” EPW editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta told The Wire. “In addition, we have written to the editor of Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy as well as the authorities at IIT-Kanpur.”

Talking about EPW‘s internal plagiarism review, Thakurta said both internal and external reviewers have been asked to check for plagiarism. The organisation all has an “internal blacklist” for plagiarisers, he said.

The editors of Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy also told Drèze that they will remove Mathur’s article from their web archives and issue a note in the upcoming edition of the journal.

IIT-Kanpur sets up committee

After receiving complaints from both Drèze and Thakurta last month, IIT-Kanpur created a committee to look into the case. No action has been taken against Mathur so far. When asked what was being done to look into these complaints, professor and dean of faculty affairs K. Muralidhar said, “The matter of plagiarism is being investigated in all seriousness by a committee set up for the purpose. The committee will submit a detailed report to the board of governors of the institute. The board will recommend the future course of action. These steps should not take too long. I wish to emphasise here that plagiarism is completely unacceptable at our institute and will bear its own consequences.”

Instances of plagiarism in Indian academia unfortunately don’t come as a surprise to anyone. From students to the very top brass at educational institutions, cases are rampant. And in most institutions, holding people accountable for plagiarism is rare.

In July this year, The Wire reported that the University of Rajasthan had appointed an alleged plagiarist as the dean while ignoring the charges against him. Complaints against another faculty member also went without being investigated. Before that, University of Hyderabad vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile admitted to having plagiarised in three papers he had co-authored.


Update: In multiple emails sent to The Wire since the issues with his papers were pointed out, Mathur has repeatedly asked for this article to be taken down. He accused The Wire‘s editorial staff of having overreached and acceded to “commercial interests” in calling his actions out.

Mathur repeatedly claimed that, apart from one paper, none of the others had been used for “upward mobility”, i.e. to advance his career. In one instance, he wrote, “I am sure that if I would have removed all papers except [the] five mentioned for cases of plagiarism, I would not have never got though IITK, RIS, Ministry of External Affairs, UNESCAP and would never would have received the Propeteo Project of the Ecuadorian government.” At the same time, he also admitted that he has been deposing before an ethics committee set up by IIT-K, is in “great trouble, restless” and that he has “lost face”.

Finally, Mathur asked for help from the article’s authors with using software to identify plagiarism. The same request had been made by Appa Rao Podile, the vice chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, in July this year when he admitted to having plagiarised in some of his papers.