Over the last four years, Brijesh Kumar Rai has filed at least six PILs and over 300 RTI applications to unearth corruption at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. Rai has been a professor in the university’s electronics and electrical engineering department since 2011.
His crusade against corruption hasn’t gone according to plan, however, despite the numerous letters he has sent about it to the university’s administration, its director, board of governors, and even the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Instead, Rai was in November 2019. In January, he was forced to take “compulsory retirement”. He has also been asked to vacate his official residence, even though the Delhi High Court has stayed this until the next hearing in March.
For Rai, this is the latest in a series of missteps by the university and its benefactors in dealing with the allegations of corruption that he has tried to spotlight. “I have faced a lot of harassment and injustice,” Rai told Newslaundry. “My research has suffered and I have been targeted. But I will continue to fight for what is right.”
Criminal writ petition
In 2018, Rai filed a criminal writ petition in the Delhi High Court. It runs into about 200 pages, compiling data from the RTI requests he has filed and detailing his corruption allegations. Rai said he filed the petition after consulting with a lawyer friend.
The plea, however, was turned into a PIL. The court ruled that the matters listed in it did not affect Rai directly but concerned public interest. The court also said the case was beyond its territorial jurisdiction since the cause of action was in Guwahati.
“I wasn’t convinced by this response because in cases of financial irregularities in academic institutes under the central government, the HRD ministry is the funding authority,” Rai said.
He sent the petition, now PIL, to the HRD ministry. “There were 17 causes of action,” Rai explained. “Corresponding to each one I attached the reply to the respective RTI applications that I had filed. But there was no response or action from their side.”
Here’s a rundown of some of Rai’s allegations.
Recruitment process violations
Gautam Biswas took over as the director of IIT Guwahati in 2013 and retired in 2019. In this time, recruitment was done several times. Rai noticed discrepancies and filed RTI applications. And every response he received puts the administration under scrutiny.
Newslaundry read through all the responses to RTI requests filed by Rai and found that they substantiate his claims.
In February 2014, IIT Guwahati posted a recruitment notice on its website for 25 junior assistants and five junior accountants. Five junior accountants were hired. For the post of junior assistant, 25 candidates were selected but only 24 joined. The remaining candidate was to be recruited from the waiting list.
In accordance with the law, a waiting list is valid for one year. However, the board of governor — the IIT’s decision-making body — held a meeting in December 2015 and extended the validity of the waiting list to two years.
Then, the IIT decided to employ more junior assistants. So, the director appointed 30 people from the waiting list, disregarding the rules. The Supreme Court has ruled that a waiting list can only be used to recruit for the position for which it’s created. If there are more vacancies for the same position, they must be advertised anew. Rai told Newslaundry it was imperative that IIT Guwahati followed the law of the land when it came to employment. In particular, he said, it must follow Article 16 of India’s constitution which guarantees equality of opportunity in public employment.
Supreme Court's judgement in the 1994 case.
“I’ve heard from certain people working at IIT Guwahati that even though only 25 posts of junior assistant were advertised, about 75 have been selected,” Rai said. “That means about 50 people have illegally been given employment at IIT Guwahati.”
Such recruitment inconsistencies aren’t limited to IIT Guwahati. It serves as the “mentor institute” for the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Manipur. It earlier mentored IIIT Bhagalpur as well. Mentor institutes have to help with the functioning of their “mentees” until they become self-sufficient.
In the last five years, Rai said, IIIT Manipur has not posted a single vacancy. The staff and faculty have been “handpicked”. "Similarly, in IIIT Bhagalpur, they initially recruited 15 people without posting any advertisement for vacancies,” he claimed. “After I started filing RTIs with regard to these recruitments, advertisements began being posted."
In one RTI request, Rai specifically asked about the appointment of Professor P Mahanta as the officiating director of IIIT Bhagalpur. The response? “There’s no person by the name of P Mahanta.”
Yet, a simple Google search throws up a lecture delivered on October 6, 2017 by “Prof P Mahanta, Officiating Director, IIIT Bhagalpur”.
Screenshot of the RTI filed by Brijesh Rai.
Screenshot of the administration's response.
Screenshot of a letter sent by P. Mahanta
Temple on campus
In 2017, Rai filed an RTI application seeking details of the construction of a temple on the IIT Guwahati campus. Construction on campus requires prior approval from the competent authority, the IIT administration in this case.
According to Rai, the temple was built by a former director of the institute who wanted “blessings” to get a second term.
Responding to Rai’s RTI request, the administration claimed the temple had existed “since time immemorial”.
Rai promptly filed a counter-affidavit. “I have a statement of an employee who has worked in IIT Guwahati since 1996. He said no such structure existed at that time,” Rai said. “Also, we have a map of a sewage line being laid below the temple in 2005. Did they first demolish the temple, then lay the line, and then erect it again?”
Board of governors
An IIT’s board of governors has 10 members. Its chairman is nominated by the president of India.
“I gathered a lot of information from the minutes of meetings of the board of governors,” Rai said. “They reveal a lot of things which arouse suspicion.”
Rai alleged that all chairmen appointed in the recent past were affiliated with the Sangh Parivar.
“For quite some time now, most of the chairmen of the board of governors have been big businessmen. Most of them are affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party,” Rai said. “One of the board members, Varadraj Bapat, is also a member of the board of governors of NIT Manipur. His Facebook profile says he’s a volunteer with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. What’s a faculty member doing with a student organisation?”
The ABVP is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Rai also said there were discrepancies in the terms served by members of the board. Tenure is supposed to last three years, with exceptions made for delays in appointing new members. However, he claimed, some members have been in place for six years.
In June 2018, Rai filed an RTI application asking why the appointment of new board members had been delayed. According to the response, the file was “under process”.
“Within a week of my filing the RTI, these members were removed and new members were appointed,” he said.
‘Corruption’ in ISRO project
In 2017, the Indian Scientific Research Organisation announced a project in collaboration with IIT Guwahati. But the advertisement for a position with the project was reposted by the IIT’s administration with lowered qualifications.
Rai wrote to the dean of research and development and the IIT’s director to look into the matter. When he received no response, he wrote to the chairman of ISRO, alleging discrepancies and corruption.
The institute handed Rai a showcause notice for not “following protocol”. The notice said it was “unbecoming of a faculty” to write to ISRO, as Rai had, without informing the IIT administration.
Rai’s case went to the board of governors. He alleged that he wasn’t given enough time to prepare his defence. “The director of IIT Guwahati called me and asked if I wished to resign,” he recalled. “They were afraid that if they terminated me, they might face legal action.”
Rai was then suspended. The director was part of the board of governors when it suspended him, Rai pointed out. But being the “accused” in this case, the director shouldn’t have been allowed to be part of the decision.
‘Private school’ on campus
Rai said a private school named Akshara was built on the campus using taxpayer money. According to his PIL, the school was started by the spouses of the faculty members. Later, the petition adds, the director, backed by the board of governors, allocated funds from the IIT’s budget to construct a new building for the school.
“IIT Guwahati has never been involved in the recruitment of teachers and staff of Akshara. The teachers and staff of Akshara have never been recruited following open advertisement,” the PIL states. “In the 83rd meeting of the BOG held on 26.12.2016, a resolution was passed that Rs 60,000 per month will be given to Akshara from the IIT Guwahati fund towards the salary of teachers and staff of Akshara. It was also decided to include Rs. 10 lakhs in the annual budget of the Institute for maintenance of Akshara.”
Rai said when Biswas was the IIT’s director, he created a “new position” of Visiting Artist in Residence just to employ a friend of his. In his petition, Rai also makes the following allegations. The list is not exhaustive.
A particular doctor was called to a walk-in interview, selected, and promoted as a permanent medical officer in the IIT Guwahati Hospital, disregarding the rules.
Favouritism in promotions.
Favouritism in the selection of principal investigators and co-principal investigators at the IIT’s Electronics and ICT Academy.
Illegal recruitment of visiting faculty and illegal extensions of tenure.
Grant of sabbatical leave even when the employee had not spent the “mandatory” six years at the institute.
Appointment of all faculty and staff members at IIIT Bhagalpur and IIIT Manipur without open advertisement.
Illegal extension of the period of service of some employees.
Rai said his case is strong and he will continue to fight. “I don’t wish to continue here,” he said, referring to the IIT. “I have faced a lot of harassment and injustice. They didn’t let me appear for interviews for the position of associate professor despite my eligibility. My research has suffered and I have been targeted. However, I will continue to fight for what is right.”
Newslaundry contacted the IIT Guwahati administration for a comment but did not receive a response. The story will be updated if a response is received.