There is a significant number of college principals and teachers in Assam holding fake doctorate degrees from dubious institutes, and they seem to lead a charmed life. The situation has come to such a pass that State Education minister Himanta Biswa had to admit in the Assembly recently that his department is ‘not serious and active enough’ in detecting fake degrees of college teachers. As he has done on quite a few occasions in the past, Sarma once again sounded a warning that he will persolly look into the matter and take steps accordingly. This will be easier said than done, considering that Sarma has other heavyweight portfolios like Fince and Health tying him down. He also promised the House that the matter will be taken up with the University Grants Commission (UGC) to verify the validities of PhDs as well as varsities offering such degrees. The minister was responding to a query posed by MLA Ashwini Roy Sarkar, referring to media reports about the principal and two other teachers of a college in Bongaigaon district furnishing PhDs from Magadh University. The principal is said to have completed his PhD less than six months after enrolling for doctoral research, that too at a varsity recognized by the UGC! The matter was brought to light through RTI queries by the garik Suraksa Mancha Assam, which claims that more than 800 lecturers in Assam have PhDs from universities of other states, and among them, the degrees of more than half are fake. Demanding a thorough probe, MLA Ashwini Roy Sarkar said that cases of college teachers furnishing fake PhDs are rampant in parts of western Assam. So what is holding up the powers-be in Dispur in weeding out fake PhD holders? By Sarma’s own admission, there is a section of officials in the Education department who are apparently ‘trying to safeguard such persons, instead of taking stern action against them’.
That brings up the next question — why are such errant college principals and teachers being shielded? Well, the answer should be obvious to anyone with the slightest experience of the sleazy ways of the Education department. For long years, nothing got done there without a hefty ‘consideration’, no file could move without commission paid at each table. It could be a teacher of superb academic credentials or a fourth grade employee — each had to pass through this cesspool to get the nitty-gritty of their appointments filized. The mechanism was well oiled and started right from the institute of the applicant, where he or she first had to grease palms in the right sections to get the file ready ‘to be put up at Kahilipara-Dispur’. The same mechanism was known to have counseled many an applicant ‘willing to pay up’ as to how and where to get their fake MPhil/PhD degrees, and the remaining needful would be done! To be fair to Sarma, he did wield some stick in his earlier stint as Education minister in the Tarun Gogoi-led dispensation. This was when the provincialization exercise was at its height in 2013, with several colleges and a number of teaching/non-teaching posts coming under its ambit. With the qualifications and length of service of teachers/staff put online, the issue of ‘off-campus degrees’ awarded by shady institutes came into public discussion. Sarma had then ordered action, including pay cut and demotion, against errant teachers. But the problem has continued to fester, with such teachers doing just the needful to stay on the right side of UGC regulations and hold on to their posts — primarily by taking PhDs from outside varsities whose rules can be easily bent with the right amount of money. The case of CMJ University of Meghalaya, which awarded 434 PhDs in just year 2012-13, many to college teachers working in various states — illustrates how difficult it is to deal with this issue. The then Meghalaya Governor RS Mooshahary himself filed an FIR against the private varsity and the matter went to the Supreme Court. CMJ University is now back on track, having won in an action at the High Court of Meghalaya against Meghalaya government, and was allowed to call for fresh admissions for 2016-17. But while CMJU hit the headlines, many other private universities with doubtful credentials have continued to operate study centers quietly in Assam, handing out doctorate degrees in droves. There can be no tolerance or compromise with such brazen flouting of academic norms; the Assam government must take this threat seriously and deal with errant teachers in exemplary manner.