Institute Of Eminence Scam: HRD Secretary Who Played Significant Role In Drafting The Project Report, Joined Reliance Foundation Just Before Jio Institute Submitted Its Application
Oberoi was an employee and part of the team of Reliance Foundation that presented the proposal for Jio Institute on April 4, 2018.
1979 batch IAS officer Vinay Sheel Oberoi, as the HRD secretary, played a key role in drafting the Institute of Eminence (IoE) rules and policies from 2015-2017. In 2018, he joined Reliance Foundation, bringing it insider info on the project.
On November 21, 2015, when the first meeting was held by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the context of setting-up world class institutes, Oberoi was a member on the panel, as a government official. Come April 4, 2018, when Reliance submitted its application for Jio Institute, Oberoi was now a private employee, part of the Reliance team.
While the fact of Oberoi joining Reliance Foundation after retiring from his post is not hidden, more details on his exact involvement have emerged. The Right to Information (RTI) filed by The Indian Express, continue to reveal chilling details of how the Narendra Modi government orchestrated the Institute of Eminence Scam.
Vinay Sheel Oberoi’s Role
First meeting on November 21, 2015
In this meeting, a senior government officials was given a presentation on “setting up of Quality Higher Educational Institutions in the country”. By the end of the meeting, it was decided the department of the higher education will come up with a plan on how to develop public and private institutes into “globally renowned teaching and research institutions”.
Oberoi was then a secretary of human resources ministry and was a part of this meeting.
On January 23, 2016, Oberoi drafted and signed the broad structure of the word-class university project, now known as the IoE scheme. Oberoi’s note emphasised the autonomy of the institutes.
In the note, Oberoi wrote, “The PMO’s thrust in the context of world-class universities has been on a non-legislative route to the establishment of both green-field and brown-field institutions. This will necessarily require amendments to the University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations, in effect creating a separate scheme of approvals and review which would not be subject to UGC monitoring and control.”
In his budget speech a month later, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced the project.
Changes to the draft report, as proposed by PMO and HRD
Between December 2015 and June 2016, several changes were made to the draft reports. Many a times, UGC rules were bent on ‘suggestions’ from the PMO. Even though there were stark differences between the HRD and PMO’s recommendations, the changes suggested by PMO prevailed.
On June 17, 2016, Oberoi met with then HRD minister Smriti Irani to discuss the points of differences between the ministry and PMO on the draft report.
On June 30, 2016, Oberoi wrote a note to PMO, requesting to revisit changes suggested by PMO. The note read, “The suggestions are welcome and have added fresh and different perspectives…There are however some areas which may need a little more attention and detail and I have listed them out …I would request that the same may be examined and necessary advice given to us..”
On July 2, 2016, PMO wrote back, agreeing to only a few of HRD’s suggestions.
On July 11, 2016. Oberoi attended a meeting with the PMO and HRD, convincing the HRD ministry on eight out of 13 points of contention, most of which were concerning private IoEs.
HRD Ministry concedes to changes made by PMO
A file note of July 12, 2016, reveals that HRD ministry agreed to reviewing IoEs once in three years, as opposed to once in a year. It further agreed on the qualification and experience of sponsors terms proposed by the PMO. It also increased the time required to achieve student-teacher ratio to five years and agreed to remove the audit of private IoEs by CAG, among other changes.
Further changes were made to the draft report between September and January, before a final note on IOEs was circulated in the ministry on January 23, 2017. Oberoi was still a part of the core team.
The Finance Ministry, in its comments dated February 23, 2017, warned the Narendra Modi government that its decision to award Institute of Eminence (IoE) tag to a non-existent institute which has only ‘future plans and intentions’ would be ‘beyond rationale and highly subjective’.
“…for the private institutions which are yet to be established, granting of the status of Institutions of Eminence based on future plans is beyond rationale and is not supported. The laid down criteria in this regard is highly subjective,” it read.
The five-page long note further read, “This methodology will give an edge to an institution which is not even established yet by improving its brand value and positioning it above the already established government and private institutions. This will be demotivational and therefore, detrimental to higher education ecosystem. Grading an institution as ‘Institutions of Eminence’ only based on intentions and a plan defies all logic. Hence the same should be revised.”
Oberoi retires and joins Reliance Foundation
In February 2017, Oberoi retired as the secretary. The last file noting as per his knowledge was the deadline of achieving targets like application submission, union cabinet approval and more.
When Reliance Foundation presented its proposal for Jio Institute on April 4, 2018, Oberoi was an employee of Reliance, presenting Jio’s proposal at the meeting.
The Institute of Eminence Scam reveals how a sinister nexus of the bureaucracy and legislators came together to benefit the Reliance Foundation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or anyone from BJP government has not commented on these recent developments, especially on the direct involvement of the PMO.