IIM amendment bill proposing power to Prez triggers autonomy debate

While the Congress has alleged that PMO wants to ensure "ideological purity", the IIMs are concerned about the amendment taking away their autonomy rather than just fixing accountability

President Draupadi Murmu (Photo: DW)
President Draupadi Murmu (Photo: DW)


A new amendment bill of the Centre that proposes the President will be Visitor to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) with powers to audit their functioning, order probes and appoint as well as remove directors, has triggered an "autonomy" debate for the prestigious B-schools.

The bill to amend the IIM Act of 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha last Friday amid disruptions by opposition members over the Manipur violence.

While the Congress has alleged that PMO wants to maintain the tightest possible control and ensure "ideological purity", the IIMs are concerned about the amendment taking away their autonomy rather than just fixing accountability.

"IIMs were given greater autonomy in 2017 and the legislation had wide support in Parliament. But six years later the Modi government is undoing what it itself had introduced. Clearly, autonomy is unwelcome for this government," Congress General Secretary and MP Jairam Ramesh said.

"The PMO now wants to maintain the tightest possible control and ensure ideological 'purity' setting aside all considerations of quality, freedom of thought and flexibility of administration of programmes," he added.

According to the Indian Institutes of Management (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the President of India shall be Visitor of every institute.

"The Visitor may appoint one or more persons to review the work and progress of any institute, to hold enquiries into affairs thereof and to report in such manner as the Visitor may direct. The board may also recommend to the Visitor an enquiry as deemed proper against the institute which has not been functioning in accordance with provisions and objectives of the Act," the bill stated.

The IIMs are concerned about whether the bill will dilute their autonomy in the name of fixing accountability.

"There can be other ways of fixing accountability. This will be a direct attack on the autonomy. The concept of an independent board governing the functioning of a B-school is a global model which has been successful everywhere... it can work in India too," the director of a top IIM said on condition of anonymity.

The director of another IIM, echoed the sentiments saying, introducing the concept of Visitor in IIMs "is a way for the government to exercise direct control".

However, certain experts also believe that IIMs are public institutions and the bill will ensure they do not turn into private "fiefdoms".

"IIMs are public institutions, answerable to the people of India (through parliament). They shouldn't turn into private fiefdoms. The leash on directors and Board of Governors provisioned in the bill should be keenly watched," said Atul Kumar, a policy analyst with the Ministry of Skill Development.

The concept of a Visitor in IIMs had first found a mention in the draft of the present act released by the Centre in 2015. However, IIMs had resisted it saying that it would "put a question mark on their said autonomous powers". It was later removed from the final bill.

The President of India is the Visitor of all the central universities and IITs and appoints their Vice Chancellors and Directors.

Under the IIM Act, which came into force in January 2018 and granted the premier B-schools greater autonomy, the board of governors of each institute has 19 members who include just one representative each from the central and state governments.

The board nominates its remaining 17 members from among eminent personalities, faculty and alumni. The board also appoints the search panels for the appointment of new directors and chairpersons and makes the appointments if it agrees with the search panels' recommendations.

However, according to the amendment bill, the search-cum-selection panel for the appointment of a director will have a Visitor's nominee.

Before the IIM Act was passed, the human resource development ministry, which has since been rechristened as Education Ministry, used to appoint IIMs' directors, chairpersons and board members.

The education ministry had last year told the institutes it is working out a new procedure for the formation of the search-cum-selection committees involved in the appointment of chairpersons. It had asked the institutes' boards of governors to extend the tenures of their chairpersons till the procedure has been finalised.

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