Who will guard the guards?

Joginder Singh ji
(Former Director – CBI)

Corruption is a cancer that is so deep-rooted in our society that nothing gets done without greasing the palms of those in authority. Be it for some personal work or for the greater common good, bribes are openly given and received. The practice is no longer carried out ‘under the table’ and has become an acceptable form of financial transaction for any service rendered.

The CBI, through a series of raids carried out in the third week of this month on the top brass of the All-India Council for Technical Education in Hyderabad, Bhopal, Chennai and Delhi, has been able to expose the rot in the national regulator for technical educational institutes. A member secretary of the organisation has been arrested and a case has been registered against its chairman and some other officers.

In the first incident, the member secretary and a middleman were arrested after the latter had reportedly demanded Rs 20 lakh as bribe on behalf of the official for inspection and approval of a private engineering college in Hyderabad. The CBI says that the owner of the college had agreed to pay Rs 5 lakh as the first installment. Based on his complaint a trap was laid wherein the secretary and the middleman were arrested while accepting the bribe.

In the second incident, charges of cheating were framed against the chairman and three other AICTE officers under the Prevention of Corruption Act for allegedly demanding money to increase the intake of students of an engineering college in Faridabad. The college authorities had reportedly informed the chairman when his subordinates had demanded the bribe. Not only the AICTE did not take action against the errant officials, but also harassed the complainant into coughing up the money. This they did by deliberately delaying the issuance of the letter of approval for starting the college in 2007-08, and subsequently, by delaying the approval for the extension of the institute in 2008-09, and for the increase in the intake of students in 2008-09 and again in 2009-10.

In the third case, raids were carried out at the office and residence of the AICTE regional officer in Bhopal and also at another AICTE regional office in Chennai. The accused in this case reportedly facilitated the approval of a chain of engineering colleges in Bhopal. It is alleged that these institutes had got the approval by misrepresenting facts.

What has come to light is only the tip of the iceberg. On a personal note, my dentist told me that he had committed the biggest mistake of his life in starting a dental college. At every step he had to bribe the regulators, apart from a plethora of Government officials concerned with health education, transport, pollution and numerous other departments. He said that he had no option but to charge his students for the amount he had to pay by way of bribes.

The Medical Council of India, which is entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining certain standards in medical education and in the medical profession, had come under the scanner a few years ago when the Delhi High Court had asked its president to step down and had pulled up the Union Government for not having taken the appropriate measures to correct the alleged irregularities in the functioning of the regulator. A petitioner in the High Court had alleged that the MCI’s inspection norms had been bypassed in the case of some medical colleges and that the inspection reports about the infrastructure and the bed occupancy rates of hospitals attached to these colleges were fake.

Part of the problem of corruption in our education sector is that we have too many rules and regulations that are supposed to be complied with before one can start any educational institution. You can bypass all of these regulations if you are willing to pay a price.

I was told by a friend who wanted to start a deemed university that he was asked to pay Rs 8 crore to a politician to get the requisite approvals. Incidentally, the total number of private universities that were given deemed status by the University Grants Commission from 1947 to 2009 was 44. But between 2004 and 2009, the number was 49

The solution lies in dismantling the permit raj which exists in the name of inspections, sanctions and approvals that have become tools of extortion. It has become a common joke within the education sector that these days things are not just decided on a case to case basis, but on a ‘suitcase to suitcase’ basis as well.

A few raids by the CBI will hardly do anything to mitigate the problem of corruption. On the other hand, we have a legal system which is loaded in favour of the wrongdoers. Saying that the law will take its course is laughable as it is going to take nearly three centuries to dispose off the 32 million cases pending in our courts. It is time we liberalised our education sector. Policies should be enacted to open up the entire sector and conditions should be created for a levelled playing field. At the same time we need to simplify our legal system so that the wrongdoers get their just desserts.