A powerful official at the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the troubled Indian regulator of technical and business education, is under investigation by his previous employer, the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, for allegedly manipulating his son’s marks in an entrance examination.
Harish C. Rai, an adviser in the engineering and technology section of AICTE, which regulates private colleges nationwide, denies the charge, saying he is being framed because he didn’t alter the marks of other students in a separate examination for a medical college.
The university conducts 18-20 entrance examinations every year—for medicine, law, engineering, pharmacy and other subjects—for seats in 85 colleges in New Delhi.
The allegations and counter-allegations come at a time when accusations of corruption plague AICTE and its top brass, stemming from its powerful role in regulating mushrooming private engineering and management colleges in India.
In December, Mint had reported that acting AICTE chairman R.A. Yadav was the subject of a vigilance inquiry for drawing salary from the regulator and a pension from his previous employer—Delhi university.
Under the lens: Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University campus. (Rajeev Dabral /Mint )
While the government has promised to investigate the matter, Yadav is still the main contender to become full-time chairman of AICTE.
Several private institutes have come forward to say AICTE inspectors have lengthy and exacting standards that cannot be met without paying bribes, and a recent report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry goes as far as to say the regulator should be abolished. A parliamentary committee has sought suggestions from the public on the role of the regulator.
As an AICTE adviser from April 2006, Rai has been responsible for processing the applications of all new private engineering colleges as well as those applying for extension of approval or increase in seats, a key post at the regulator. There are 1,600 private engineering colleges in India and 400 more applied in 2007 for permission to start admissions.
An application moves to AICTE member-secretary K. Narayana Rao, Rai’s supervisor and second to Yadav, once it has been processed and approved by Rai. Rai can also order a surprise inspection if he concludes a college has not met the norms set out by AICTE; these norms lay out infrastructure requirements from the size of classrooms to the number of books needed in the library.
In an interview with Mint, Rao said he has, in recent months, taken over the job of selecting the inspection teams that are sent out by AICTE to check on new colleges or existing ones because he wanted to have a say in this key and controversial part of AICTE’s operations.
But, “I don’t have anything in writing against Rai,” said Rao. AICTE chairman Yadav did not return calls for comment.
Until 2005, Rai served as the controller of examinations at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. He is accused of altering the answer sheet of his son. In answering a right to information application filed by Mint, the universitywrote: “Rai allegedly committed gross misconduct, misused of his official position and showed lack of integrity to gain undue favour by way of manipulation of marks of his son” in the common entrance examination in 2005.
In the end, the university ordered that his son’s result be withheld and he enrolled in a college in the Delhi suburb of Noida, not affiliated to his father’s employer.
But, Rai says it is actually the university that engaged in corrupt practices. He says he is being framed by vice-chancellor K.K. Aggarwal for refusing to entertain requests to alter marks. These marks manipulation requests were madeespecially for candidates applying for seats in a medical college that is affiliated to the university.?“I?even?have?a?slip of paper in the vice-chancellor’s handwriting with roll number of a student where he has indicated he wants marks manipulation,” said Rai. He declined to show the document to Mint, claiming it would expose higher level officials.
“I deny it (Rai’s allegations) with all my strength. Why did he not speak up during these six years?” responded Aggarwal in an interview with Mint. Aggarwal said only Rai, who was responsible for the tests from 1999 to 2005, is under scrutiny.
The Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University was set up in 1999 by a law passed by the Delhi government. It grants affiliation or the right to function to colleges under its control, more than half of which are private ones. It also sets their syllabi and holds their examinations every semester.
The colleges, offering programmes such as engineering , computer application and masters in business administration, need the approval of AICTE as well as the university affiliation.
Besides Rai, only one other AICTE adviser, who oversees colleges that run business study programmes, holds such an important position. The other advisers are for the finance, legal and administrative functioning of AICTE.
Rai said he is aware that those engineering colleges who do not get permission turn against him. Indeed, as the back-and-forth accusations at his previous university show, AICTE is not alone in fuelling corruption in higher education; colleges in the booming sector also engage in widespread grade-fixing, cheating and the use of outright bribery in admissions.
Rai said he has attended 60 hearings as part of the official enquiry being conducted by a retired judge appointed by the management board of the university. He showed copies of papers that appear to suggest he had warned the university that his son will sit for the entrance test for engineering in 2005 and the vice-chancellor had then appointed another faculty member to conduct this test.
Responds the university vice-chancellor Aggarwal: “But he conducted all the other exams, and staff was under his control.”