Leave IITs & IITians Both Alone

After Shri Narendra Modi of the BJP took oath as the 15th Prime Minister of India on 26th May 2014, owing to the overwhelming absence of a credible and strong opposition to the BJP on political front, media and celebrities have taken it upon themselves to discharge the thankless duty of offering constrictive criticism of policies and everyday functioning of his government, when they are not engulfed in debates over issues, e.g. pinstripe suit of Narendra Modi, which bear national, international and perhaps strategic consequence as well.

Ms. Smriti Irani, the Union Cabinet Minister of the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, seems to have been one of those fortunate ministers to have received an elaborate guidance of media, so far, in discharging her duty. Irani has consistently been told what to do and what not to do with premier institutes of Higher Education such as Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)! She has been asked to discontinue funding the IITs recently. However, I do not agree with whatever Mr. Jeswanth Padooru had to say in his Dear Smriti Irani, stop giving my money to IITiansI am rather interested in analyzing some issues he has presented before us instead of squarely saying him that his demand is outlandish!

THE SUBSIDY SAGA:

Let me begin with a note of agreement! There is absolutely no scope of argument over the importance of rationalization of subsidies and improvement of mechanisms of doling them out in order to achieve curtailment of the total subsidy bill to meet targets set for budget deficit.

The bill for subsidies came to an 18.58 per cent of total non-plan expenditure for the financial year 2015-16, against 23.02 per cent for the financial year 2013-14 and 21.98 per cent for the financial year 2014-15. This declining trend does tell us that unlike other governments, known for their lip-service, the present NDA government is committed to rationalize subsidies and improve their delivery mechanisms.

At this juncture, I would like to inform Mr. Jeswanth Padooru that the government does not treat expenditure on social services as subsidies!

THE FALSE PREMISE:

Mr. Padooru, it seems, is good at stating abridged information, and hence perverting the facts, if doing so would strengthen his argument. It has to be forcefully asserted that the government funds many more higher education institutes through the UGC, besides IITs and IIMs! (UGC has nothing to do with the IITs/IIMs.) Hence, singling out IITs and IIMs would amount to prejudice against those premier institutes, in my opinion.

I would again, at this juncture, wish to draw attention of Mr. Padooru that he never took into account the money aided to the IITs by Department of Science and Technology (DoST) while calculating the amount of taxpayer’s money ‘wasted’ on the IITs!

I have done my Bachelor of Engineering from the Faculty of Technology and Engineering of The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara. It is a Government grant-in-aid institute. Against ₹ 90, 000 which, according to Mr Padooru, an average IITian pays as annual fees, I had to pay only ₹ 780 as annual tuition fees, and ₹ 2000 as annual hostel fees.

Now I shudder to think what would have happened to me and thousands of others who have done their Bachelor of Engineering from taxed-funded institutes if Mr. Jeswanth Padooru were the Prime Minister or Union Cabinet Minister of the MHRD!

THE PAYBACK DILEMMA:

While taunting IITs for the ‘sheer waste’ of the taxpayer’s money, Mr. Padooru completely disregards research activities of those institutes; I need not document them as Mr Padooru can always file an RTI if ever he wishes to know about it.

It is ridiculous to expect direct payback to the exchequer in lieu of any social service. The expenditure on social services is aimed at betterment of the society and improvement in standard of living of its people. Does Mr. Padooru have any evidence that IITs have failed on these two parameters?

Just to inform Mr. Padooru, the Haj subsidy incurs some ₹ 700 crore to the exchequer every year. Don’t you think funding IITs is a better way of spending the taxpayer’s money? After all, being a Hindu why on the earth would I want my tax money be used for funding Haj pilgrimage?

It is, at this juncture, imperative to invoke the Nalanda University Project here! I wonder why on the earth is Mr. Padooru not interested in auditing the Nalanda project!

I, for once, would love to pose a question to Mr Padooru- Has he ever thought what all would have done with the money which was siphoned through various scams, e.g. CWG scam, had that money never been siphoned in the first place? Everyone, including Mr. Padooru, would at least concede that financing IITs with taxpayer’s money is no scam.

THE INAPPROPRIATE DIAGNOSIS:

When Mr. Padooru says that IITians are not interested in joining the Army or other wings of the Armed Forces of India, he again does it what he knows the best- perversion of facts! I still remember the campus drive organized by the Indian Army in my college. We all were thrilled and overjoyed, thinking that we may be able to have the fortune to join the Army. A large number of students participated in the campus drive, a couple of students got call from army headquarters to appear for the five-day SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal) interview. Unfortunately, no one got selected in SSB interview wherein one has to undergo psychological test, group test and personal interview. But we all were quite enthused to join the Army! What went wrong then? The Army has its own criteria, to select personnel for TGC (Engineers), which in no term is easy even for the IITians.

Then he goes on to mention that less than 2 per cent of engineers at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) are from IITs and NITs. This remark of him has two dimensions. Firstly, it is insulting to the engineers at ISRO as he does not consider him best despite a slew of achievements, of ISRO, owing to those very engineers for everyone to see. Secondly, does he even know anything about how engineers are recruited at ISRO? Mr Padooru rightly expresses his concerns over the inadequate talent pool of Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).  Again, does he know anything about how engineers are recruited at DRDO? Or does he know anything about the unprofessional work-culture there?

What Mr. Padooru doesn’t want to tell is the sordid saga of political indifference, bureaucratic lethargy, unprofessional work-culture, unattractive remuneration, and above all, a rigid recruitment policy which refuses to be flexible even for the best talent.

Over an interaction on Twitter, Ms. @Sai_swaroopa narrated the experience of a couple of people she personally knew to me. According her, a Wharton PhD holder who wanted to join DRDO was rejected by the organization because he had less than 65 per cent marks in Bachelors of Engineering. Her husband too wanted to join DRDO but was discouraged to find that no incremental value is given to a Masters degree over Bachelors the degree.  She describes their experience as ‘horrible’.

In order to get into the IITs, one has to face a very fierce competition and get through the same! So does not it occur to us that in order to hire the best pool of talent, government organizations such as ISRO, DRDO, and even Indian Railways for that matter, will have to indulge in a fierce competition with those employers whom IITians find attractive to work for?

THE STALINIST INSTINCTS: 

Let me remind Mr. Padooru that it is a fundamental right of every Indian citizen to practise any profession, or to carry any occupation, trade or business as bestowed by the article 19(g) of Constitution.  Who gives him the right to ban engineers working in a field different from their area of expertise?

Then he indulges in personal attacks on Mr. Chetan Bhagat. I would like to inform Mr. Padooru that Chetan Bhagat is an IIM(A) alumnus as well and before becoming a full-time author he was pursuing a career of investment banker. If we go by Mr. Padooru’s logic/argument, BJP leader Manohar Parrikar, the Union Cabinet Defence Minister, and Raghuram Rajan, the RBI governor and an acclaimed Economist, are useless as they failed to build a career in their area of expertise after passing out from the IITs. Do you even know how bizarre your argument/logic is, Mr. Padooru?

THE LOAN MYTH:

Mr. Padooru again perverts the facts to make his argument at least tenable. Contrary to what he claims, collateral security coverage, of no less than 50% of the limit sanctioned, to get educational loans, is required even if a student has secured admission to the IIT. Now the only acceptable collaterals are either fixed deposits or property (residential). This is not all. No bank offers educational loans on the prospective future salary of the student; his parent/spouse has to be the co-applicant in order to get the loan. One thing I would like to underline that this is not about the IITs alone. I am rather talking about the viability of educational loans in general. So how realistic does this ‘solution’ sound? I leave the answer of this question up to you.

Besides, they are not dying to dole out educational loans to IITians, as banks feel heat of bad study loans. Needless to state that NPAs of the PSU banks are liabilities to the government, i.e. taxpayers!

THE BRAIN-DRAIN BARB:

Instead of regretting the lack of enough opportunities for the best talent in India, Mr. Padooru goes on to compare the resultant brain-drain phenomenon with Indian expatriate in middle-eastern countries doing blue-collar jobs.

In this era of globalization and information, one does not mind relocating in order to build a successful career. IITians are no exception.

Finally, let me reiterate that funding IITs, or any government run institute of higher education, with the taxpayer’s money is rather a strategic investment and not an act of doling out mindless subsidy to some as Mr. Padooru wants us to believe.

PS: I have deliberately avoided commenting upon reforms in higher education.