New Delhi/Sonepat, Haryana: The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), which faces accusations of red tape and corruption in regulating private business and engineering colleges, appears to have rapidly approved increases in the number of seats at an institute owned by close relatives of the council’s acting chairman, Ram Avtar Yadav.

No answers: AICTE acting chairman Ram Avtar Yadav.

The Shri Balwant Institute of Technology, located on 10 acres in Sonepat, launched in 2006 with 240 students enrolled for undergraduate courses in engineering, the usual intake of an engineering college.

Just a year later, that number has gone up by 50% to 360.

The college is owned by the Chanderwati Educational and Charitable Trust, whose trustees are Rajesh Yadav, brother-in-law of AICTE’s Yadav; Sushil Yadav, who is the wife of Rajesh Yadav; and a Bhavesh Yadav. Mint could not ascertain the identity of Bhavesh Yadav.

In 2007, Shri Balwant received permission from AICTE to increase engineering seats with 60 new slots for undergraduates and another 60 for post-graduates. A sister institute of the trust was also allowed to admit 60 students for a postgraduate diploma in management in the Shri Balwant Institute of Management. The business school’s building faces the engineering college across a road in Sonepat.

There is no evidence to suggest that Yadav was directly or indirectly involved in AICTE approving the swift increase in seats to Shri Balwant Institute.

Nor is there any suggestion that the approval was ­improper.

But, such generous permissions from AICTE are not common.

Indeed, according to AICTE’s website, of the 45 existing private engineering colleges operating in Haryana, only 19 received permission from AICTE to increase seats in 2007. Among them, besides Shri Balwant Institute of Technology, only three colleges received permission for a large number of seat increases. The website did not mention whether all of the 45 colleges had applied for such permission.

It is unclear whether AICTE has rules in place that allow for an arm’s-length evaluation when it comes to approvals of institutes that are linked to its top officials. Mint couldn’t independently ascertain the processes that were followed in the case of Shri Balwant Institute.

AICTE, a division of the ministry of human resource development, is in charge of approving private institutes in technical and business education.

Amid growing concerns about about AICTE, members of Parliament (MP), who are part of the standing committee on human resource development, have agreed to ask for a public notice to be issued that would seek suggestions on how to improve the functioning of this regulatory body. According to one MP who attended the meeting but did not want to be named, the group of MPs met in New Delhi on Friday and included Rahul Gandhi, a general secretary of the Congress party.

In addition to complaints about a corrupt AICTE approval process, something that its own senior officers concede has been an issue dogging the regulator, Yadav himself has been the subject of a vigilance inquiry by the ministry after an anonymous allegation that he was drawing both a salary from AICTE and a pension from the University of Delhi. Such double pay is generally not allowed under government codes.

Against a backdrop of a booming private education sector and heightened demand for skilled labour, AICTE also has faced criticism from entrepreneurs, schools and the Maharashtra government that say it has been slow to react to changing times.

Its requirements, from the number of books in the library to the acreage of a campus, have been blamed for fostering an environment of corruption, bribery of inspectors and the entry of many shoddy institutes.

On its website and in literature, the Shri Balwant Institute’s connection to Yadav is not obvious. While AICTE guidelines require institutes to disclose their board of governors on a website, in Shri Balwant Institute’s case, Sushil Yadav is simply listed as Ms Sushil and Rajesh Kumar Yadav is listed as Mr Rajesh Kumar. Both are described as industrialists.

Mint has independently verified that Sushil Yadav, Rajesh Yadav and Bhavesh Yadav run the trust. Sushil Yadav and Rajesh Yadav declined repeated phone calls and visits requesting an interview by Mint. At the two colleges owned by the trust, a security guard stopped this reporter and a photographer at the gate. When asked, he said that Sushil Yadav was not on the premises. A questionnaire left for her did not yield a response.

The address of the trust is listed as Shalimar Bagh, a section of North Delhi. When Mint attempted to reach the Yadavs at this address, which is surrounded by a tall gate, a woman who identified herself as their daughter over a gate intercom said they were not home.

R.A. Yadav also did not return calls or emails for comment. He has repeatedly declined requests for comment from Mint or simply deferred interviews to a later time.

On Friday, Yadav briefly met this reporter and again said he would get in touch to answer questions. He declined to take written questions that were offered to him about Shri Balwant Institute.

Last week, the ministry of human resource development (HRD), which oversees education, did not comment on how far its vigilance inquiry into the acting chairman has ­proceeded.

Chief vigilance officer and joint secretary at the HRD ministry, Sunil Kumar, who sought comments from AICTE on the double salary issue of its acting chairman, said his portfolio has changed and he is not the chief vigilance officer any more. In a previous interview with Mint, Kumar had confirmed that the ministry has asked AICTE to respond to the charge.

Kumar’s senior, R.P. Agrawal, secretary in charge of higher education, did not return calls for comment. And K.S. Mahajan, undersecretary in-charge of vigilance in the ministry, said no written record exists of any vigilance enquiry against Yadav.

One of the other members of the board of governors of the Shri Balwant Institute of Technology said he is not aware of a relationship between the AICTE head and the owners of the college.

“I don’t know if they are related. I don’t have any idea," said Pritam Singh, former director of Management Development Institute in Gurgaon and the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow; both top-tier Indian business schools. “I was invited by Rameshji and Sushilji to be on the board as they needed someone who could help them (start the college). I don’t remember the date."

On a recent afternoon, outside the college, students huddled over books to cram for a test. They said counsellors had guided them to the college after they sat for the All India Engineering Entrance Examination. Annual tuition fees of the college are Rs50,000.

“Engineering seats are less in Delhi and after getting to know our rank, we were told that this will be a good college for us," said Vineet, the son of a businessman and an undergraduate engineering student who goes by one name.

In Haryana, besides Shri Balwant, the Anupma College of Engineering in Gurgaon, started in 1996, received a 100% seat increase from 120 to 240 seats in 2007. The other two colleges, Gold Field Institute of Technology and Management, set up in 2005, and Panipat Institute of Textile and Engineering, set up in 2006, each received a 50% seat increase, raising their seats from 240 to 360.

Not everyone is so lucky. The Shri Krishan Institute of Engineering and Technology, located in the same state on a 23-acre campus, started admitting students a decade ago and offered 300 seats in 1999 in undergraduate courses in engineering. With increased demand, the college applied for an increase of 60 seats in 2005 and again in 2006. Its application was rejected both the years. The institute has applied again, this time for 120 seats.

“We have not been given any reason for the rejection of the application", claims I.J.S. Lamba, director of the institute. One of the promoters of the college, R.K. Sharma, would only say there must have been valid reasons for the rejection of his college’s application but declined to elaborate citing fears of creating a controversy.