The Congress on Tuesday demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi reveal the “reasons and pressures” that made his office intervene and ease the proposed norms for educational institutions to be considered for the “institutions of eminence” tag.

According to a report published by The Indian Express on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office overruled a few objections raised by the Ministry of Human Resource Development while framing guidelines on land, finances and academic expertise for potential “institutions of eminence”. The government had announced six “institutions of eminence” in July – one of them was Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute, which is yet to be set up.

“We have become a laughing stock in the world of academics by granting the tag of institute of eminence to a virtual university,” PTI quoted Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan as saying. “This is also a carry over of cronyism that has started creeping into every facet of this government.”

The party demanded to know “the compulsions that have led to this decision of diluting the norms”. “The kind of pressure that is being exerted on the ministry and the minister to take a decision which is unprecedented in the history of India,” Vadakkan said.

The PMO’s intervention

The Indian Express report is based on the government’s response to a Right to Information query. The concept note and draft regulations went back and forth among the Ministries of Finance and Human Resource Development and the Prime Minister’s Office between December 2015 and September 2016, the report said. The Prime Minister’s Office prevailed on most points.

Among the points of contention was the background of those wanting to set up a private institution that can be considered for the “eminence” tag. The HRD ministry said members of the sponsoring organisation should have experience in setting up such institutions but the Prime Minister’s Office said the organisation should have some members with credentials demonstrating commitment to education.

The HRD ministry also wanted private institutions seeking the status to possess adequate land at the time of application, but the Prime Minister’s Office felt only an in-principle commitment to make land available would be sufficient. The Prime Minister’s Office prevailed on this point too.

The “institution of eminence” status was given to three public and three private educational institutions. Government institutions with this tag will get special funding of Rs 1,000 crore over the next five years, and the private organisations will get academic and administrative autonomy. The Indian Institutes of Technology of Delhi and Mumbai, Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, and the Jio Institute received the status.