The Law Ministry has shot down a proposal moved by the Ministry of Education (MoE), seeking powers to initiate an inquiry against the Board of Governors (BoG) of an IIM if it’s ostensibly found to be acting in contravention of the IIM Act.
As first reported by The Indian Express on December 6, the MoE had shared a draft executive order with the Law Ministry that, if approved by the latter, would not only have empowered the government to initiate an inquiry against an IIM BoG but also dismiss the Board.
The MoE proposed the said order under Section 38 of the IIM Act, which allows the government to remove teething difficulties in implementing the new law within three years of its enactment.
In a meeting held last month, the Law Ministry is learned to have objected to the MoE’s proposal on the ground that it is inconsistent with the provisions of the IIM Act, which gives unprecedented autonomy to the 20 business schools, and that any provision permitting the government to take punitive action against the institute can only be introduced through an amendment in the law.
The IIM Act, which came into effect on January 31, 2018, gives sweeping powers to all 20 business schools, including appointment of directors, chairpersons and Board members. Earlier, for instance, the director was appointed by the Board but with the prior approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by the Prime Minister.
Education Ministry’s powers weakened
The IIM Act allows the government to remove any teething problems by way of an executive order within three years of its enactment – a deadline that expired on January 31. With the Law Ministry junking the Ministry of Education’s draft executive order late last month, the MoE now cannot do much in terms of giving itself more powers to act against the IIMs—unless it decides to amend the IIM Act.
The MoE’s proposal came amid the current standoff between the Government and IIMs over the one-year MBA degree.
In July 2020, the MoE had red-flagged the one-year executive MBA degree saying that it is “not in accordance with the UGC Regulations”, which mandate that a Master’s degree should be of two years, not one.
The IIMs, in the government’s view, violated that provision. In a letter, the business schools were directed to “act in conformity with the UGC Act 1956”.
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Some of the IIMs had converted their one-year diploma for working professionals into a degree programme after the IIM Act, 2017, allowed degree-granting powers to the 20 business schools. Out of the 20, IIMs in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Indore, Kozhikode, Lucknow and Udaipur offer the one-year degree for executives.
However, the IIMs defended the one-year degree to the government and continue to run the programme.
The MoE’s move was also significant given that there was a strong difference of opinion within the government – over autonomy and accountability — at the time of the drafting of the IIM Act.
In 2015, while the MoE had advocated retaining government control in the name of ensuring financial and administrative propriety, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had wanted a hands-off approach. The draft law went back and forth for almost a year between October 2015 and September 2016, during which the MoE, then under Smriti Irani, stuck to its guns, but yielded after Prakash Javadekar took over in July 2016.