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Priti Patnaik: IIMs' one-man demolition squad

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Priti Patnaik  |  New Delhi 

In his four-decade-long career as a government servant Vijay Krishna Shunglu has had his share of controversy. Last week, he was at the centre of another one by recommending, in his capacity as a one-man committee, that there was no need for the bigger
Coming as it did while dialogue on precisely this contentious issue was in progress between the IIMs and the ministry for human resource development (HRD), Shunglu's report has generated much heat.
IIM administrators have suggested that Shunglu has gone beyond the purview of the committee's brief and considered parameters that were the prerogative of their governing boards.
Indeed, the appointment of the Shunglu committee in itself is a point of contention. It was set up to investigate the leak of the in December last year. Shunglu was hand-picked by minister Murli Manohar Joshi less than 24 hours after the crisis broke.
Subsequently, when the controversy over ministry-recommended fee cuts erupted in February this year, Shunglu was asked to analyse the financial structure, funding and fee structure of the six IIMs.
Given the sensitive nature of the issue, the former Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) is unwilling to grant an interview. "He's a tough nut to crack "" he's been a bureaucrat for 40 years," his wife joked after he turned down yet another request from Business Standard to meet last week.
Shunglu, an economics graduate from St Stephen's, Delhi, and a Masters in history, has certainly had varied experience as a bureaucrat through the ministries of finance, commerce, power, health and family welfare and the cabinet secretariat, among others. He also worked in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) from 1985 to 1990.
It was his appointment as Comptroller and Auditor General of India in 1996, however, that attracted some controversy.
It was during his tenure that the office of the CAG came into confrontation with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai). The CAG had asked the telecom regulator to subject all its records of telecom tariff calculation to audit.
Trai refused, even as the CAG maintained that tariff fixation was the regulator's executive function and had huge financial implications for government revenues.
Shunglu was, however, appreciated within the service. His former colleagues credit Shunglu with the visibility he gave to the CAG office during his tenure. He empowered the department, they say, and introduced the system of summarising the CAG report to make it more media-friendly.
Certainly, Shunglu was open and vocal in his criticisms and opinions "" whether they were on specific provisions in the Companies Act or even on corporate governance.
In the context of the Enron scandal, for instance, he believed that external auditors needed to be made independent of dominant shareholders in a corporation in terms of remuneration and appointment.
By raising the curtain on what the ministry claims to be the window-dressing of IIMs' balance sheets, the Shunglu report might have far-reaching implications. For the moment, though, he is content to let his report do the talking.

First Published: Mon, May 10 2004. 00:00 IST
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