Rajeev Kumar, professor of IIT Kharagpur, is consistently using RTI to expose irregularities in the IIT joint entrance examination and has triumphed by making the entrance test transparent this year but he has been suspended since 2011. Last week the HRD ministry had directed IIT Kharagpur to act on his indefinite suspension. An overview of his amazing battle through RTI
What happens if you doggedly try to cleanse up a corrupt system? You would be suspended from work if you happen to be professor Rajeev Kumar, a computer science engineering professor at IIT Kharagpur, even though the Supreme Court has hailed him as “one of the many unsung heroes who helped in improving the system.”
On 22nd October, the human resources development (HRD) ministry in a letter, had ordered the Director of IIT Kharagpur for ‘urgent’ revocation of suspension and appointment of an independent commissioner for departmental enquiry regarding professor Rajeev Kumar’s indefinite suspension since March 2011. This comes as a sequel to several reminders made by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to the IIT management to “examine the issue.” The CVC then on 25 September 2012 brought this indefinite delay to the notice of the HRD ministry which then issued a letter to the Director, IIT Kharagpur last week. To date, Kumar is debarred from teaching and research work and entering his departmental office complex and laboratories.
Ever since his son missed admission to IIT in 2006 by just three marks, he has been pursuing the flawed marking and student selection process of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) common to all IITs by filing a string of RTI (Right to Information) applications. RTI documents showed that 994 top scorers of JEE 2006, the year in which his son too appeared for the entrance examination, failed to make it to the IITs whereas lower scoring candidates were given admissions. According to Kumar, “this was due to faulty calculation of cut-off marks”. So he decided to go about correcting the flawed system to bring in transparency to this prestigious entrance test so that brilliant students are not denied entry into the esteemed IITs. His suspicion about the transparency of the candidate selection system grew when RTI replies revealed that the optical response sheets of 2006 (answer sheets in layman’s language) were ‘shredded’ (destroyed) despite the rule being that they should be preserved for one year. Also, the management of the IIT changed its version thrice in the CIC hearing and court regarding the formula it adopted for calculating cut-off percentage.
What provoked this IIT professor to use RTI so rigorously? In September 2006, Kumar read in the newspapers that the CIC ordered the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) to reveal its admission and selection procedure and so was inspired to pursue the same for IITs.
Thanks to Kumar’s sustained efforts at the expense of being “threatened, harassed and victimised by the Director, deans and the registrar of IIT Kharagpur since he is filing RTI applications and exposing certain wrong-doings (as recorded in a CIC order)”, for the first time the IIT JEE entrance test of April 2012 displayed transparency. The students were provided carbon copies of their answer sheets; the model answers have been put up on the IIT website to facilitate students to cross check their answers and thereby marks and; the cut-off percentage was announced prior to the examination instead of after evaluation of the answer sheets. This was a sequel to a Supreme Court judgment which directed the IITs to upgrade the selection process and make the system more transparent.
Between September 2006 and January 2012, Rajeev Kumar has filed over 50 RTI applications for information on various facets of IIT JEE entrance examination and other alleged mal-administration in IIT Kharagpur, even as he was fighting a legal battle in the high court and Supreme Court. He has also filed 39 second appeals/complaints to the Central Information Commission between May 2007 and April 2012.
Prof Kumar has been ironically suspended by the management of IIT Kharagpur in May 2011 for “damaging the reputation of the institute” because he made allegations on procedures adopted for IIT JEE entrance examination, exposed copying in these examinations and highlighted irregularities in purchase of laptops. The management of IIT Kharagpur in turn has alleged his involvement in corruption in purchase of laptops. As per rules, it is mandatory to form a committee to review his suspension as he comes under the Central Civil Service Rules of 1965. IIT Kharagpur, though stated that it has its own set of statutory rules for suspension cases, has issued him a letter saying that his suspension would continue till further orders. The HRD ministry in its letter has scuttled that argument.
Kumar filed his first RTI application in September 2006 seeking information on the cut-off marks for each subject (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics) and marks scored by the top 2,000 students who had got through to IITs. IIT-JEE tests examine the analytical abilities of a student in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. The students get a call for ‘counselling’ if they clear the pre-determined cut-off marks set for each subject as well as score the required aggregate marks.
After the PIO failed to reply, Kumar filed a first appeal but that too was ignored. He then filed a second appeal to the CIC. Kumar also simultaneously filed another RTI application asking for the procedure followed to determine the cut-off marks, the question paper with model answers and names of all the people associated with the examination procedure of 2006. The PIO of IIT stated in an evasive reply that there was “no set procedure to determine cut-off marks” and also refused to reveal the question paper. Then he filed a third application in January 2007 on the number of students who got marks above the cut-off marks and had got selected.
In April 2007, the CIC ordered the IIT Kharagpur to provide him the required information on all the three RTI applications he had filed. The information finally provided to him but did not explain how they reached that cut-off. IIT gave yet another explanation of the cut-off system in September 2007 and then submitted a third explanation to Kolkata High Court in August 2009. This proved there was no proper system.
In fact, for years, says Kumar, the selection of candidates was a very complex procedure and it was never made public. There was utmost secrecy in the marking procedure. As per rules, each year, one of the IITs is in charge of conducting the examination.
After Kumar was provided the list of all candidates who had cleared the examination of 2006, he analysed the marks of 32,000 candidates and was shocked to find that there was discrepancy in the cut-off marks. It showed that his son Sanchit and 993 others were wrongly excluded from being called for the next round which is called ’counselling’. The information also revealed that sons and daughters of IIT professors are almost always selected. Armed with this information he approached the Kolkata High Court but the judge did not allow the petition. The Supreme Court too dismissed his appeal regarding his son’s case. It however stated in its recent judgment that: Excerpts from Supreme Court Judgment [(2012) 1 SCC 157] “... the action taken by the appellants in challenging the procedure for JEE 2006, their attempts to bring in transparency in the procedure by various RTI applications, and the debate generated by the several views of experts during the course of the writ proceedings, have helped in making the merit ranking process more transparent and accurate... IITs and the candidates who now participate in the examinations must, to a certain extent, thank appellants for their effort in bringing such transparency and accuracy in the ranking procedure. ...have to be satisfied in being one of the many unsung heroes who helped in improving the system.”
For Prof Rajeev Kumar, the story is far from over. More than 20 appeals/complaints are pending with the CIC against deemed refusal of information and submitting false/irrelevant/misleading information. His aim is complete cleansing of the irregularities and corruption in IITs. Too Utopian?
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”. She can be reached at email@example.com.)