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Sibal broke his promise and is selling a myth to the country: Somnath Bharti

Interview with President, IIT Delhi Alumni Association and Supreme Court lawyer

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Unhappy with the changes made in the Indian Institutes of Technology-administered Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) pattern, the says it will take the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) to court. Somnath Bharti, the association president and Supreme Court lawyer, tells Disha Kanwar the implications go well beyond the IIT community’s feeling of betrayal. Edited excerpts:

Why are you not happy with the changes in IIT-JEE?
Any change in the admission process of students to IITs can only be done by a well detailed process, as laid down in the Institutes of Technology Act (IT Act) and the Statutes. It warrants an ordinance by the Senate of each IIT, explicitly stating details of the admission mode to their UG courses. Such an action on the part of we construe as an attack on the autonomy of IITs.

Once this autonomy is allowed to be compromised, it will severely and irreversibly damage the stature of IITs. This is our main objection. Also, the changes proposed in the admission process has serious flaws and will surely compromise the quality of the kind of students entering into IIT. Since input would directly and surely affect the output, the IIT brand will get severely damaged and no longer be held in high esteem worldwide.

What changes does your association want?
Autonomy in matters of academics for IITs. The unilateral MHRD decision on the admission process has clearly violated that. We want our Senates to have full freedom to decide the format of the admission process to IITs.

Did your association not voice its concerns before the decision?
The annual flagship event of the IIT Delhi Alumni Association, the Leadership Conclave, was held on April 15 to exclusively discuss the concerns IITs face today. It was at length debated that the ongoing deliberations at MHRD on the admission process at IITs must be closely observed from the point of view of autonomy of IITs. We sent our analysis to the government’s proposed plan and then met Kapil Sibal, the minister, on May 24 and voiced our concerns. Sibal categorically declared the government would not go ahead with the proposed common entrance examination or any change if there was even one dissent. He obviously did not keep his promise.

You said the government is defying the IIT Act, 1961.

Sections 15, 28 and 29 of the IT Act and Clause 4(2) of the Statutes empower the senate of each IIT to decide the mode and manner in which students will be admitted to the respective IITs. The role granted to the IIT Council is advisory in nature, by section 33 (2) (a). This stands violated, with MHRD having ignored the dissents of the IITs’ senates, breaching the autonomy granted statutorily.

Is legal recourse the only option?
The IIT community feels deeply aggrieved because we were promised by the minister that in case of dissent, the government would not go ahead with the proposed plan.

After deliberations, we have decided on a three-pronged approach. Dissenting Senates will work in line with the IT Act provisions, the respective Statutes and the ordinances. IIT alumni will meet the Prime Minister, seeking his interference in saving the IITs. And, we will approach the courts with public interest litigation (PIL).

Why do you want status quo on the exams till 2014? What can be achieved in this period?
We want it so that the Senates of IITs get enough time to deliberate upon the issues and decide in one or the other way in their own wisdom, keeping in mind that IITs were established as Institutes of Excellence.

Will the IIT Faculty Federation be a party to this petition?
The proposed PIL is going to be multipronged. I have been approached by affected students and their parents, who will file a suit in addition to the ones decided by IIT Alumni.

What changes are you seeking in the exam pattern? What, according to you, are the flaws in the changed pattern? What suggestions do you have to change the process?
We are seeking the quashing of the proposed exam pattern because it is devoid of legal sanctity. Now, there will be two exams called JEE (Main) and JEE (Advanced). While both these exams will be undertaken by all the students, for entry into IITs only the top 50,000 students figuring in a merit list prepared on the basis of 50 per cent weightage to students’ performance in the class XII Board examinations, normalised on percentile scores, and the rest 50 per cent of the score of JEE (Main) will be eligible for getting their answer sheets of the JEE (Advanced) checked. The final merit list for entry into IITs will be drawn on the basis of the performance of these 50,000 in JEE (Advanced).

In arriving at this formula, the government claims to have solved three problems -- the stress of appearing in multiple entrance examinations (read JEE and AIEEE in the present circumstances), lacklustre treatment of school boards by the students and heavy dependence of students on coaching institutes. By combining the tests of institutes like IITs, NITs and IIITs, they are combining only two exams, JEE and AIEEE. Students will still have to appear in multiple regional engineering colleges and private engineering colleges. So, “one country, one exam” is a myth being sold to the country.

Our schooling system has failed to grow with time and be of interest to new-age children. Accusing IITs for children neglecting school exams is as baseless as accusing a woman inviting a rogue for getting troubled because of her modern dress. It is the rogue who has to be fixed and not the woman.

Normalising the marks of varying school boards is simply impossible without causing irreparable harm to the students. With the proposed changes that school boards will have 50 per cent weightage, the coaching industry has already started witnessing a heavy rush for training for school boards, too.

Though it is in the domain of Senates of IITs to have the final say, the general feel is that school board marks should be used only as a cut-off as they are being used now, followed by a subjective test in physics, chemistry and maths for entry into IITs. Also, a bigger problem in the proposed plan is the control on the examination being taken off IITs’ hands. In the last 60 years, IITs entrance examinations have never faced the kind of problems and allegations almost every other examination has faced in India and it is solely because of IITs’ 100 per cent control on their entrance examination.

How will the coaching market increase even after this change?
It will increase manifold because of the apparent need to train students better in their school boards, JEE (Main) and JEE(Advanced). It does not require much intelligence to see that the proposed changes would mandatorily need more of coaching for students. The government has turned a blind eye to the condemnable state of education standards in schools and is exploring solutions in lowering the standards of competitive examinations like IITs, which will only worsen the situation. A multi-billion coaching industry has sprung in the system in response to the fallen education standards in schools and they will keep flourishing unless the government takes up the issue of quality education at the level of schools.

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