01 Jun 2016 12:58 IST

Seshasayee, Parekh, Munjal fail Smriti Irani’s ‘test’ for IIM-A head

Seen as assault on B-school autonomy

The reported rejection by the Smriti Irani-headed Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry of three corporate stalwarts shortlisted by a panel for appointment as Chairperson of IIM-Ahmedabad is being seen as a threat to the autonomy of India’s premier business school.

According to reports, a three-member search committee, headed by former IIM-A Chairman and L&T CMD AM Naik, had suggested three names for the top post: Chairman of the Board of Directors of Infosys R. Seshasayee, Chairman of HDFC Deepak Parekh, and Hero MotoCorp CMD Pawan Munjal.

“The file notings gave no reason for the rejection of the three names,,” a Ministry source told BusinessLine. “A new search panel will be constituted by the IIM-A board for nominating more names,” the source added.

Another source said the decision had been made at the topmost level in the Ministry.

Government officials and previous IIM-A Directors refused to comment on the issue, but top educationists, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed their concern that the effort was to appoint a chairperson who is ideologically aligned with the NDA government. This, they fear, may jeopardise the autonomy of the B-school.

“By rejecting IIM-A’s recommendations, the government appears to be trying to control the B-school’s functioning at the macro level,” said a well-known educationist and an IIM-A alumnus, speaking on condition of anonymity. “MHRD may want to put its own people at the helm of affairs by directing the move.”

Pattern of behaviour

Such fears are amplified by the government’s earlier efforts –– to appoint an IIM Council with oversight powers; the drafting of an IIM Bill, 2015, which sought to “regulate” B-schools; and the effort to intervene in the fee structure of IIMs –– which were seen as intended to erode the IIMs’ autonomy.

Some experts, however, seem inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt. “While IIM-A has the flexibility to suggest the names, it is up to MHRD to select or reject those names,” said Kamal Singh, Director-General, National Human Resource Development Network. “At the same time, the move won’t affect the institute’s autonomy as the new recommendations will also come from within.”

The government should have considered at least one of the candidates, Singh added.

The position of IIM-A Chairman has been vacant since January, when AM Naik stepped down. Cadila Healthcare CMD Pankaj Patel is currently Interim Chairman, appointed by the IIM-A’s governing board.

E-mails sent to Smriti Irani’s office and to the Department of Higher Education went unanswered.