IIT Gandhinagar’s Opaque Admission Norms: Bias Against SC/ST Candidates?

Source: Sabrangindia.in

By Ujjawal Krishnam

RTI reveals that several seats reserved for dalits and adivasis remain vacant in programmes in which admissions are internally regulated by IIT Gandhinagar.

Indian Institutes of Technology, widely known as IITs, with their distinction as Institutes of National Importance (INIs) abide by the strict accountability regulations in the field of higher education. In contrast, the information exclusively accessed and reviewed by NewsClick hints at something murkier about IIT Gandhinagar.

According to information provided by IIT Gandhinagar in the response to multiple Right to Information (RTI) applications, IIT Gandhinagar has been following a non-transparent system of admission for MSc [Cognitive Science] and MA programmes compromising reservation norms.

Vivek Kumar Jha, an applicant for MA in Society and Culture [2019-20], told NewsClick, “On March 2, selected candidates [through their portfolio and SOP] were called for a written test of 90 minutes. A list of interviewees [no marks mentioned] was declared within three hours of the test. Written test was easy, my interview also went well, but I was turned down.” Jha, suspicious of admission process, filed RTI applications to find the details of admitted candidates. Jha comes from ‘unreserved’ category.

The number of candidates provisionally selected for the Masters of Arts program in Society and Culture for the Academic Year 2018-19, RTI says, was 45 (37 in the main list + 8 in the wait list). Finally, 23 from the main list and two from the wait list took admission. Ten of those who didn’t take admission were from general category [main list (6) + wait List (4)]; seven were from OBC (Non-creamy layer) [main list (5) + wait list (2)], while three from the main list were from the SC category.

Similarly, 36 [main list (36) + wait list (NIL)] were provisionally selected for 2017-18 program in MA in Society and Culture. Only 24 candidates took admission, but the wait list was not generated, and seats remained vacant. The number of candidates belonging to OBC (NCL), SC and ST category – who were provisionally selected for MA in Society and Culture but did not take admission – for the academic year 2017-18 was respectively five from general category, four from OBC and two from SC.

NewsClick found that IIT Gandhinagar keeps changing the number of seats for MA in Society and Culture and for MSc in Cognitive Sciences. This is only disclosed after the completion of admission process. The final data of admitted batches from previous years don’t comply with the government-approved reservation share, i.e. 7.5% seat share for ST, 15% for SC and 27% of OBC.  

The total number of seats in MA Society and Culture, RTI reveals, is 40 for the academic year 2019-20. The number of seats for reserved categories in this case is bound to be 20 for general, 11 for OBC(NCL), six for SC and three for ST, but it is still unclear what the final picture of the batch will be.

The data available for the three consecutive batches [2016-2018] of MSc in Cognitive Sciences show that there is NIL representation of Scheduled Tribes. Unfilled OBC seats were also not properly opened for the general category.

Our investigation found that wait list had no proportionate representation of reserved categories. The wait list was tabulated far before the provisionally selected candidates were admitted. This led to two-fold contraction of Dalit and Adivasi representation. 

The institution also failed to open the vacant reserved seats for admissions defying the judgment delivered in Archana Thakur v. State of H.P., CWP No. 1992 of 2017, order dated 12.01.2018. The order observed:
“For academic Sessions necessary instructions be imparted to the effect that vacant reserved seats meant for SC and ST categories in educational institutes including Schools, Colleges and Universities, which remain unfilled after exhausting the list of available and eligible SC and ST candidates, should be thereafter offered and filled from amongst eligible candidates from open category on the basis of merit. We clarify that in case any cut off limit has been fixed, then only those candidates of open category should be admitted against the vacant seats, who have gained marks at par with the cut off limit.”

Vivek Jha speculated how seats could have remained vacant. He said, “They selected suitable candidates in the first place. Now, there is zero representation of the most marginalised sections of the society, which boasts of 15% Adivasi population. IIT Gandhinagar hosted an international summer institute on social justice in 2017. Is this how social justice is done?”

NewsClick could not find any comprehensive prospectus for the MA programmes. Instead of prospectus, a single-page curriculum for the programme is catalogued on the official website. Compared to the screening tests for MSc [Cognitive Science] and MA programmes, which are internally conducted by IIT Gandhinagar, JAM (for MSc in pure sciences) and JEE (for BSc and B Tech programmes) are centralised entrance exams, and for these, the institute releases detailed authorised prospectus.

Also, the final list for MA in Society and Culture 2019-20 was declared in an XLS file with no mention of reservation category to give a blanket cover to the asymmetry. No scores, no cut-off marks, no knowledge of categorical occupancy—IIT Gandhinagar with institutional autonomy has silently adopted the blind admission procedure followed by the US Colleges. This is happennig at a time when the US college admissions scandal has now raised several questions on the blind admission procedures.

NewsClick sent IIT Gandhinagar three questionnaire on the same via e-mail [copied to R. Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Department of Higher Education and Sukhbir Singh Sandhu, AS (TE) & CVO and in-charge of IITs in DHE]

IIT Gandhinagar, in its response, maintained that it carries out the selection process as per its approved procedure with due honour to reservation policy.

Asked about the inconsistent filling of SC-ST seats in several programmes, RR Bhagat, deputy registrar, responding on behalf of the institution, said, “Some SC-ST seats remain vacant because of unavailability of suitable candidates.” This is not justifiable as the candidates called for on-campus tests were chosen on the basis of rigorous academic portfolios. IIT Gandhinagar also fails to justify how academic portfolios were reviewed. Applicants were again not intimated about the approved procedure clarifying on what basis they were either selected for on-campus tests or rejected for the same.

Bhagat said, “The Institute publishes list of candidates who are offered admission. Since the wait list candidates are not offered admission at that stage, their names are withheld. Nonetheless, the committee report and approval note do contain the names of wait list candidates as per merit.” This strictly outlines that wait list is not prepared according to reservation norms. On the contrary, it is a conventional practice followed by eminent public institutes in the field of Social Sciences like Tata Institute of Social Sciences to release the wait list.

IIT Gandhinagar has failed to respond to our third questionnaire yet [dated June 5, 2019] where we had questioned IIT Gandhinagar for i) their incompetent outreach program to attract suitable candidates from scheduled categories and ii) not diluting SC-ST seats as per recent HC judgment as seats, generated on taxpayers’ money, remained vacant. NewsClick has also sent reminders but no response has been received yet.

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