It’s the transparency, stupid

| | in Oped
It’s the transparency, stupid

We have cracked our jokes on those who thought up this PR disaster. Now, let’s take a dekko at the substantive issues thrown up by the Jio Institute row

There are two primary issues that ought to concern any Indian citizen who thinks perchance cares about higher education in the country now that the Government in its wisdom has decided to bestow the ‘Institution of Eminence’ tag upon Reliance Industries' proposed Jio Institute in Pune.

The first is nomenclatural. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘eminence’ as “fame or acknowledged superiority within a particular sphere” — that’s the end of that argument if you have been paying attention to the word italicised in the previous paragraph. For, a non-existent educational institution cannot be said to have acquired eminence even if the moniker has been given by God herself forget the Government of India. Further, to even aspire to eminence, an institution must, at the very least, exist. Surely, that’s an unexceptionable notion? After all, as a senior and himself greying and pretty eminent colleague has pointed out, there is a reason the phrase ‘grey eminence’ is used; the grey prefixed to eminence implies white hair for which age/experience is an essential requisite.

Right, now that we have had our fun at the expense of the willing-to-crawl-when-asked-to-bend lot who thought up this PR disaster for the Government, let's have a dekko at the substantive issues thrown up by the decision. For, if the intent of the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry was to encourage private players in higher education, there are better ways of going about it.

Greenfield projects, the category in which Jio has been issued an ill-advised letter of intent recognising it as an Institution of Eminence, need to take off before the issuance of official epistles granting them any particular status. The fact that this category was created by amending the UGC rules last year does lead to raised eyebrows. But even if we counter-intuitively, given Reliance Industries’ historically excellent relationships with all Governments regardless of political affiliation for four decades now, give the benefit of the doubt to the ruling party, a statement of appreciation ought to have been enough.

The problem for the Government emanating out of this ill-thought through move is going to be one of perception. Politically, its opponents will hammer away at the decision as yet another example of the ‘suit-boot-ki-sarkar’ mindset though if anything the current dispensation is more socialist sleek than corporate chic.

Let's put it like this — since the purpose is ostensibly to encourage corporate investment in higher education, an excellent idea given the shambles our institutions of alleged higher learning are in today and which is why the UGC rules were purportedly amended last year, and given the reality that all Governments are addicted to issuing patronage-providing notices, let me draft an appropriate one for the HRD Ministry here:

In an effort to promote private/corporate investment in higher education, the Government of India is pleased to announce that the proposed Jio Institute in Pune promoted by Reliance Industries, one of India's leading corporate groups, meets all the conditions laid down by the HRD Ministry appointed Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) for establishing a greenfield project.This is a new category created in 2017 by amending UGC rules to encourage private players to enter the education sector and supplement Government efforts to provide quality education to India's young and aspirational population. It may be noted that the Greenfield category is meant for those proposals which meet necessary conditions,will come to fruition within three years,and does not cover existing educational institutions in either the private or public sector. Government of India is pleased to issue a letter of intent that it will recognise the proposed Jio Institute(Pune) as an Institute of Promise on its inception in or before July 2021 provided all EEC conditions are found to have been acted on.

Savvy? Ticks all the boxes and ensures transparency in governance. Plus, Reliance Industries is duly appreciated for putting their money and land where their mouth is without suspicion of there being a quid pro quo at work as the General Election is coming. With a proposed communique on the above lines, were it to have been issued by the HRD Ministry, those simpatico could justifiably have claimed that attacks on Reliance Industries and the Government of the day emanate from a deeply biased mindset and are ideologically motivated. But that’s not how this whole episode has gone down. And that, is the bottom-line.

Of course, we do in this country still have a problem with recognising wealth creators as vital contributors to the public good and that must change. But for that to happen wealth creators have to first quantifiably spread wealth outside of their shareholder domains. Additionally, nobody, least of all this writer, is questioning the right of any duly and democratically elected Government to take decisions in what it thinks is the public interest. That’s what they were elected to do. Just be transparent about the decisions taken and let there be clarity in the logic behind them. Oh, and please do get the UGC/HRD Ministry experts a dictionary.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer)

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