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HRD Ministry rejects IIM-B’s suggestions for chairperson post

This article was originally published in Indian Express.

The HRD Ministry has refused to appoint IIM Bangalore’s next chairman from the names suggested by the institute, The Sunday Express has learnt. The search-cum-selection committee (ScSC) of IIM Bangalore, headed by co-founder of Sabre Partners, Rajiv Maliwal, had recommended names of Vinita Bali, former managing director of Britannia industries, renowned cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Shetty and Vikram Kirloskar, non-executive director on the board of Kirloskar Brothers, for the post of chairman of the Board of Governors (BoG).

IIM Bangalore director G Raghuram confirmed that the government has sought a fresh panel of finalists. When asked if the government had given any reasons for finding all three candidates unsuitable for the job, he said, “No”.

When contacted, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar told The Sunday Express that he did not specifically recall what has happened in case of the appointment of IIM Bangalore’s chairperson, but added that the government is working swiftly towards drafting the rules under the IIM Act within the next 50 days.

Although the ministry, technically, can shoot down the institute’s suggestion, this is only the second time it has happened. The first instance was almost two years ago when Javadekar’s predecessor, Smriti Irani, did not appoint IIM Ahmedabad’s chairman from the three candidates forwarded by the institute — then chairman of the Board of Directors of Infosys R Seshasayee, HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh and CMD of Hero MotoCorp Pawan Munjal. IIM Bangalore has been without a full-time chairman ever since Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman of Biocon Limited, completed her term last year.

The Ministry’s rejection is significant as it comes at a time when another institute, IIM Kozhikode, seems to be resisting the government’s attempt to appoint its chairman. According to sources in IIM Kozhikode, a member of institute’s BoG has written to the ministry requesting that the Board be allowed to take charge of the chairman appointment, especially after the IIM Bill has been passed by Parliament in the winter session.

The institute’s ScSc had submitted its recommendations for the post before the passage of the Bill. The shortlist for Kozhikode’s chairmanship includes Onkar S Kanwar, chairman of Apollo Tyres, and Lakshmi Narayanan, CEO of Cognizant.

Unlike other centrally run institutions, IIMs, under the new Act, are empowered to appoint their own directors and BoG chairmen. The degree of autonomy to be granted to the premier B-schools under the IIM Act was the source of some friction between the Prime Minister’s Office and the HRD ministry under Irani’s leadership in 2016.

As per the government notification, the law comes into effect from January 31. However, the Act also states that till the rules and regulations are finalised, the existing bye-laws of each institute “will continue to apply”. In other words, if the ministry wants, it can still appoint chairmen and directors of IIMs wherever the posts are vacant.

It’s not clear whether the government will heed the request of the BOG member of IIM Kozhikode or go ahead with the appointment. At present, five IIMs — Ahmedabad, Jammu, Bodhgaya, Kozhikode, Amritsar and Kashipur — do not have full-time directors. IIM Bangalore and Kozhikode are the only ones without a chairman.

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