The government and India’s best management colleges must be embarrassed by the revelation made to the Punjab and Haryana High Court that the director of IIM-Rohtak was ineligible for a position he held for five years. It demonstrates unprecedented flaws and loopholes in the appointment process, which were first exposed by this newspaper, and must compel the government to act quickly against those who looked the other way or allowed it to happen. Although IIM-Rohtak director Dheeraj Sharma failed to meet a minimum criterion — he received a second class instead of the first-class required in his undergraduate exams — his name was approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by the Prime Minister, as was the case until the IIM Act was enacted. A second-class undergraduate degree in and of itself may seem like a foolish reason to exclude the best candidate, but if that is the requirement, any waiver must be justified to guarantee that the playing field is level.
Not only that, but after three reminders, Sharma refused to submit his undergraduate degree to the Ministry of Education. When Sharma’s candidacy was challenged in court last year, the Ministry of Education repeatedly denied any irregularities and requested that the case be dismissed. It has since issued an affidavit admitting that it was mistaken. Sharma, however, has been re-elected as the director of IIM-Rohtak, although his first tenure was nullified. While exaggerated degrees and certificates are not uncommon in many universities, the discovery of such deception at an IIM casts doubt on the institution’s effectiveness. The IIMs, which are rightly regarded as intellectual powerhouses, take pleasure in being uncompromising when it comes to talent and rejecting mediocrity. They have also fought a protracted war to safeguard and retain their academic autonomy, which has included legal wranglings. However, the selection of the IIM-Rohtak director — and now a second term — implies a breakdown of a system of checks and balances, as well as a culture of procedural misconduct.
The disclosures now send a message to the IIMs, whether it was political influence or corruption that allowed Sharma to cheat the system or persuade the institution to lessen its scrutiny. The IIMs have been able to appoint directors, chairpersons, and board members without the involvement of the government since 2018. Such processes, on the other hand, must remain open, transparent, and credible – and be perceived as such. The objective now for the IIMs is to tighten the verification processes. The sins of omission and commission that led to this crisis must be investigated by both IIM-Rohtak and the Ministry of Education. Yes, the institute has the liberty to choose its leader under the IIM Act, but does it wish to offer a second term to someone who has been proven to be untrustworthy? This has nothing to do with undergraduate transcripts; rather, it is about intellectual honesty and integrity.