M A I N   N E W S

Row brews over process to select new UGC chairman
Sumedha Sharma/TNS

Chandigarh, January 14
The selection process of the new chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) seems to be jinxed. After allegations of pulls and pressures, a new controversy is brewing with questions being raised on the issue of propriety, as head of the selection panel, Goverdhan Mehta, is a professor of Panjab University’s Rajiv Gandhi Chair and university’s Vice Chancellor, RC Sobti, is candidate for the coveted post.

Both Mehta and Sobti claim that the issue is “irrelevant” and is being “blown out of proportion” by vested interests but the circumstances in which the Rajiv Gandhi Chair was “offered” to Mehta barely three months ago raises lot many questions. Many faculty members, however, say that for the sake of transparency and propriety, Mehta should quit as the professor of the Chair before presiding over the panel of selectors to judge Sobti’s for the post of UGC chairman.

The Rajiv Gandhi Chair was lying vacant since 2005 and Mehta was part of the panel that interviewed several professors for it. The post was in fact advertised four times and the panel rejected all the candidates as they were not found suitable. Then all of sudden in October 2010, the post was “offered’ to Mehta and he accepted it.

When asked, Mehta confirmed that he was offered the Chair last year. “I was offered this chair in 2010 and my offer letter doesn’t talk about any tenure limit”, he said. Mehta, however, said that it is “ridiculous to link it with the selection of the UGC chairman. Mehta said there is no question of propriety as he is not an employee of the university. “How could I know then that Sobti would apply for the post of UGC chairman? Shall I quit going to universities and doing professional work as one or the other person may end up being a prospective candidate for one or the other post”, he reasoned.

However, contrary to Mehta’s claim, the Rajiv Gandhi Chair is one of the highest academic seats instituted in the university with 100 per cent funding from the UGC. The appointment for the professor is generally for a period of five years in a pay scale of higher than that of a normal professor. As per UGC norms the chair designates the holder as Rajiv Gandhi Professor of Panjab University.

Even Sobti confirmed that Mehta was still the professor of Rajiv Gandhi Chair. However, he said that Mehta got no monthly payments from the university but was paid, according to the norms, for lectures delivered by him.

Sobti said the Senate had offered Mehta this Chair on the basis of his eminence. Sobti also rubbished the talk of propriety on the issue and said it was being blown out of proportion by vested interests. However, Dr AD Ahluwalia, former chairman of the Geology Department, Panjab University, says there is a “multidimensional unethical behavior on part both Mehta and Sobti.” “It’s not rocket science. The game is clear”, said Ahluwalia, who has shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the HRD Minister asking them to ensure that none of the search committee members were beneficiaries of any favours or honours from any of the Vice Chancellors under consideration for the post.

Panjab University Teachers Association president Akshay Kumar said: “Though there may not be any ulterior motive but there is no denying that Mehta is a beneficiary.” 






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