The IIT Bombay campus, Powai
hrd ministry: iits
IIT Bombay's planned satellite campus in Gujarat is nixed by HRD mandarins
Crankshafted
  • IIT Bombay and IIT Madras wanted to set up satellite campuses that would have added up to 10,000 seats
  • Gujarat was ready to allocate 300 acres of land, also chip in with financial support for the Rs 600 crore project
  • The HRD ministry shot down plans on the grounds that setting up satellite campuses was the prerogative of the central government
  • Gujarat and Kerala are the main losers

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If recent developments on the "quota front" were any indication, the Union HRD ministry should have jumped at the opportunity to add up to 10,000 more seats in the IITs. For, not only would this have facilitated the larger plan of 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in institutes of higher education (like the IITs), but it'd have fulfilled what the ministry has been pushing for—expansion of "existing facilities" in elite government-funded institutions.

But strangely enough, when proposals from two IITs to expand came up for clearance, the ministry was quick to shoot it down. Reason: "The decision to set up new IITs rests with the central government," stated the note from the ministry. It warned the IITs not to take any "precipitate action in this regard". As a result, the roadmap drawn up by the Bombay and Madras IITs to expand facilities to accommodate some 10,000 more students on satellite campuses in neighbouring Gujarat and Kerala fell through. For no apparent reason other than the fact that the idea wasn't its own, the HRD ministry was unwilling to yield an inch.

The worst hit was IIT Bombay in Powai. It had been working for nearly a year to set up a satellite campus near Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Much of the groundwork had been completed and even an MoU had been signed with the state government. Some of the details chalked out included:
  • The board of governors of IIT Bombay approved the satellite campus.
  • The Gujarat government agreed to arrange 300 acres of land to set up the satellite campus.
  • The state gave an undertaking that it would also get local industry to support the venture.
  • The whole project would cost an estimated Rs 600 crore. The funding would come from the central and state governments. Business houses would also chip in.
  • The academic year could begin from this year with classes being held at a temporary location.
But what looked like a done deal suddenly fell through in March this year. Senior officials in the Gujarat government say the Centre's decision is "inexplicable". But doubts have been raised that the decision was influenced by the fact that Gujarat has a BJP government under Narendra Modi. Officials at the HRD ministry flatly denied this, insisting the decision to "discourage" satellite campuses was only to prevent any "dilution of the IIT brand".

Perhaps because Gujarat had been deprived of a campus, Kerala also had to suffer. Left Front chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan had shown interest in setting up a 250-acre campus at an estimated cost of Rs 800 crore in Kerala with help from IIT Madras. But this plan has also been scrapped.

Documents accessed by Outlook show that the Gujarat satellite campus project began last year after the state's principal secretary (education) P. Panneervel wrote to Professor Ashok Misra, director, IIT Bombay. As discussions progressed, what emerged was an ambitious plan to set up a campus which would have an "ultimate strength of about 4,000 to 5,000 students". The government of Gujarat agreed to allocate land either near Ahmedabad or in the Gandhinagar-Sarkheja belt. In fact, so enthused were the representatives from IIT Bombay that they even agreed to commence temporary classes from existing engineering colleges in Gujarat. Besides starting courses in the conventional engineering streams, they were also keen to introduce new syllabuses in emerging fields such as marine, petrochemical, aerospace and aeronautical engineering.

The plans were by and large approved by the board of governors of IIT Bombay in a meeting held on August 11, 2006. In a detailed letter to the secretary (higher education) at the HRD ministry, Prof Misra pointed out that IIT Bombay in the last few years had been able to increase its student strength by only 30 per cent. He also noted that this kind of "incremental addition" could, at best, marginally address the plight of thousands of IIT aspirants who went away disappointed each year. By setting up a satellite campus, IIT Bombay could immediately double its intake capacity.

While IIT Bombay appreciated the Union ministry's efforts to augment "existing facilities", Misra pointed out that the present campus (spread over 530 acres) did not have adequate space for the additional hostels, residential complexes for faculty and classrooms essential for such an expansion. The case for setting up a satellite campus was strengthened by this—it solved the space issue while IIT Bombay would always maintain the same standards of excellence it is known for.

The HRD ministry though wasn't convinced. In a meeting held on November 20, '06, attended by the directors, the secretary (higher education) was categoric that expansion as envisaged by IIT Bombay was not on. The ministry's view was that the IITs were only welcome to set up small extension centres that would be devoted to "continuing education, diploma courses, finishing schools, incubation programmes etc". When it came to setting up satellite campuses, it was tantamount to "setting up new IITs". That was the prerogative of the Centre.

After a few more attempts to revive the project, IIT Bombay gave up. Professor Misra wrote to the principal secretary (education) Gujarat in March, pointing out that in view of the position taken by the HRD ministry his institution would not be in a position "to proceed further in the proposed satellite campus of IIT Powai in Gujarat". Chief minister Narendra Modi, of course, was quick to allege that the Centre's decision was guided solely by political considerations.

What is intriguing is that the Oversight Committee headed by Congress MP Veerappa Moily—tasked to draw up a roadmap for the implementation of 27 per cent OBC reservation—has strongly recommended expansion of centres of excellence. The committee saw satellite campuses as a "solution" that would help "meet the immediate requirement". Perhaps, the HRD ministry sees no need to meet short-term targets.
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