The University Grants Commission (UGC) has curiously removed the report of the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) on the selection of Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) from its website. The UGC resolution on the EEC’s report has also been mysteriously taken off the UGC’s website.

They were apparently uploaded on the UGC’s website on 11 July ~ two days after the Union HRD Ministry announced that the central government has shortlisted six IoEs ~ 3 from the public sector and 3 from the private sector, including the nonexistent Jio Institute of the Reliance Foundation ~ based on the EEC’s report and recommendation.

The link to both these documents now throws up a cryptic statement on the UGC website, stating that “We will be back shortly, we are undergoing maintenance !!! The requested page or resource was not found. We apologize for inconvenience.” The point that other parts of the UGC website have continued to function normally raises suspicion besides putting a question mark over this move.

Even other online references to these documents did not yield any results. When The Statesman reached the HRD ministry’s higher education secretary R Subrahmanyam for a comment, he said, “It was displayed for a month. UGC routinely removes old documents.”

Strangely, the UGC website displays reports going back to 1975. The government’s decision to announce the Jio Institute among six declared IoEs sparked a controversy which has been raging, with a number of Opposition parties continuing to question it within and outside Parliament.

In its report, the EEC recommended 11 educational institutions as IoEs, of which the UGC/government approved only 6 ~ IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay, and IIT Delhi from the public sector; and Jio Institute (Reliance Foundation), Pune in “greenfield category”, Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences, Pilani, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education from the private sector ~ which was announced by the HRD ministry in a release issued on 9 July.

At two places in this statement, however, the HRD ministry’s release claimed that the EEC in its report “recommended selection of only 6 institutions (3 from public sector and 3 from private sector) as IoEs”, which is factually incorrect.

With Jio’s inclusion among the IoEs continuing to be at the centre of a row, the HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar has repeatedly tried to give explanations in both Houses of Parliament, maintaining that the proposed Jio Institute has not been given the status of IoE but only a “letter of intent” under the greenfield category.

Clarifying in the Rajya Sabha on 26 July, Javadekar said that Jio Institute has been offered just a “letter of intent”, which is “conditional”. The same issue was again raised in the Lok Sabha today. The HRD minister echoed his claims in the Lower House too.

“They (Jio) have been only issued letter of intent with a clear guideline of what they should do for three years, complete the process and then only they will be granted (IoE) status after verification and inspection,” said Javadekar in reply to a question from Prasun Banerji, a Trinamul MP from Howrah.

Javadekar added that altogether 114 institutions had applied for getting the tag of IoEs in which various universities from West Bengal were also included.

The HRD ministry officials have claimed that the EEC is working independently to select more IoEs in both the public and private sectors, with the Centre planning to have ultimately a total of 20 ~ 10 each from the public and private sectors ~ IoEs. Jio Institute is to be set up by the Reliance Foundation Institution of Education and Research.

To a query on whether the HRD Ministry would reconsider the decision with regard to Jio Institute, Javadekar said it has “nothing to do with the government”. He said LoIs have been issued to Jio Institute and Manipal Academy of Higher Education with the condition that the they would submit a report to the HRD Ministry.