Madras Institute of Development Studies

This is the birth centenary year of Dr. Malcolm S Adiseshiah, founder and chairman till his death (1994) of the Madras Institute of Development Studies. The petty power play of the few weaklings who control this institution now has reduced it to a metaphor for a malaise, a menace to the academia, and a drag on the public exchequer. Rueing the day he founded it and seeing the centenary jubilation turned into macabre Adiseshiah's soul might be hovering around restlessly, if there is anything as a soul.

 

Dr. Adiseshiah (April 18, 1910 to November 21, 1994) was an internationally reputed educationist from Tamil Nadu. In recognition of his outstanding services to the country in 1976 the Government of India awarded him Padma Bhushan, one of the top civilian honours. Since 1998 UNESCO has been awarding every year 'The Malcolm Adiseshiah International Literacy Prize' in recognition of his outstanding contribution to education in general and to literacy in particular.

 

After retirement as Deputy Director General of UNESCO in 1970, Dr Adiseshiah founded the MIDS in Chennai. In 1977, MIDS was reconstituted as a national institute for social science research under the joint sponsorship and joint funding of the Government of India through the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and the Government of Tamil Nadu. To ensure its national character, at the instance of the ICSSR in 1978 Dr. Adiseshiah made extensive changes to the MIDS Deed of Trust. This amended Deed governed MIDS till 2003.

 

The reconstitution of MIDS as a national institute was in keeping with the mandate of the ICSSR, which was set up in 1969 by the Government of India with the specific objective of promoting socio-economic research by establishing institutes in different parts of the country, funded jointly by the Central and state governments. The Council has so far set up 27 institutes. These institutions have been a heterogeneous ensemble partly because some of them were registered as Trusts and others were registered as Societies; and partly because the tracks of some of the institutions like ISEC, Bangalore (founded by Dr VKRV Rao, a former Union Education Minister, as a society, with hardly any self-interest) were well-laid. Compared to ISEC, MIDS was a mere hobby-horse.

 

Despite this, the liberal academic atmosphere which Adiseshiah brought with him made MIDS an international institute. His death did not leave an immediate void in MIDS as the ICSSR managed to appoint a highly reputed liberal historian, Professor S Gopal, as Chairman of the MIDS Governing Council. During Gopal's Chairmanship MIDS also had a good Director in Professor S Neelakantan. Neelakantan's self-effacing and accommodative nature, and respect for colleagues and scholarship, found him in good stead in emulating the liberal style of functioning of Dr. Adiseshiah.

 

Shortly after Gopal's term ended and Neelakantan's retirement, began the sordid saga of MIDS. As this was brought under public scanner in an earlier write-up MIDS ignores its long serving Professors in the Asian Tribune of 7 February 2009, the details are not repeated here. Only some of the flagrant acts since 2001 are highlighted below:

 

• Flouting the healthy practice of nomination of two Professors at a time for a period of two years to the MIDS Governing Council on rotation basis (till recently MIDS had only four Professors) to exclude, as a spiteful, vengeful act, one Professor who had filed a case against the MIDS Governing Council against its gross misdeeds;

 

• Flouting the rules of faculty recruitment merely because the Director wanted to appoint her cronies;

 

• Misguiding the judiciary through an affidavit that MIDS has its own resources, though from 1977 till date MIDS has been funded to the extent of 95 to 98 per cent every year without any break; to effect which a memorandum of understanding signed between the ICSSR and the MIDS at the time of reconstituting MIDS as a national research institute;

 

• Flouting the norm of consulting senior Professors to ascertain their willingness to serve as Director as established by Dr. Adiseshiah, and appointing an outsider whose only concern is his survival and well-being; and

 

• Suspending the well-conceived provision of retaining retiring Professors with a minimum of six years service as Professors in MIDS, as Professors Emeritus with all the facilities they had enjoyed before retirement, merely to drive out the Professor who had filed the case against the MIDS Governing Council.

 

• That the last violation was indeed a calculated malicious and mendacious act should be evident from the fact that well before the retirement of this Professor in October 2009 the MIDS Chairman wanted all the related provisions to be included in the agenda for the Governing Council meeting scheduled in October as the existing provision allowed for only review of the time-frame and not for denial or suspension of the position of Professor Emeritus.

 

The last minute change in the agenda abolishing the position of Professor Emeritus on the ground of "space crunch" showed that the new Director of MIDS was not only self-serving with no concern for academic development of the institution, but also an inveterate liar as MIDS then had enough vacant faculty rooms and there was absolutely no space crunch.

 

That only two members of the Governing Council spoke firmly for retaining the provision for Professor Emeritus, whereas most others spoke in one voice against it clearly showed that the decision was taken well before the meeting. That no member cared to get details of the use of floor space and thus call the bluff of the Director, showed the casual and partisan nature of decision making at the highest level.

 

The Professor who retired in October 2009 was served an "eviction notice" one month in advance, with a stern warning that if the room occupied by him was not vacated and the keys were not handed over to the administration his retirement dues will not be settled.

That is precisely what MIDS did as its "parting gift" to him. His salary for October 2009 and retirement dues were not paid until the media took up the matter.

 

To avoid personal inconvenience, in a hurry the Professor shifted all his belongings to his residence in the first week of November and sent a letter to the MIDS Director for arranging to collect the keys from the Professor's residence after settling his dues. When a journalist began investigating the matter the Director got away with lies and damn lies. As the report was no doubt poor journalism, insiders in MIDS discussed in disgust the low level to which the MIDS Director had stooped to save himself from adverse publicity.

 

The report in The Times of India dated 12 November 2009, by Assistant Editor Jayaraj Sivan ran thus:

 

Centre of excellence in city struggles for space

 

Chennai: Hardly a week passes by at the Madras Institute of Development Studies without students from colleges in Tamil Nadu and nearby states visiting the campus for referring to its rich collection of books.

 

The nearly four-decade-old institution is now crumbling under its own weight, primarily owing to lack of space and also because of a financial crunch, feels its director R Maria Saleth. MIDS is gearing up to celebrate its founder's birth centenary.

 

"But there is hardly anything to cheer about at this juncture. The condition of this centre of excellence is pitiable - owing to lack of space in our library we have virtually stopped purchase of new books. Our library racks are packed and many books get damaged as they are pulled out. To top it all, the 70-year-old building leaks during rain."

 

The institute is located on eight grounds (one ground is 2,400 sq ft) donated by Adiseshiah, in upmarket Gandhinagar, Adyar. It has 20 faculty members and 32 research scholars. "Our primary source of funding comes in the form of grants (Rs. 79 lakh each) from ICSSR and the state government. Still, we will fall short of roughly Rs. one crore in meeting budgetary requirements during the current financial year. When the institute faced a severe financial crisis a few years ago, it sold another [sic!] property in the city, donated by Adiseshiah, for Rs. five crore and deposited the amount in the bank. We are able to fulfill our salary commitments only out of the interest from the deposit," said Saleth.

 

The institute has been following the practice of absorbing its retired faculty as professors emeritus (they enjoy all facilities but do not get salary). "We were forced to do away with this system recently when one of our eminent sociologists, P Radhakrishnan, retired. Three more professors will retire in the next one year. Though we want them to continue, we do not have space to accommodate them," lamented Saleth, adding, "The institute has been making representations to the government to allot some land. There is no progress on that front so far. The only alternative is to pull down the present building and construct a new one, taking advantage of the additional floor space index (FSI is the ratio of land area to built-up area) permitted in the new master plan for the city. But that won't be a permanent solution."

 

None of the issues mentioned above is true. On an average MIDS gets only 3-4 students a day from outside. They are allowed to use the library only if they are doing M Phil or Ph D. Even then they are not allowed in the stack rooms. As MIDS continues to buy books and journals, if the statement to the contrary comes to the notice of the funding agencies it will be forced to repay a major chunk of the grants already received. MIDS has three buildings. The frontage, which is just about one-tenth of the entire floor space, is probably 70 years old. The main building after the frontage was built in the 1980s, and the annex was built in the 1990s.

 

In the report the Director admits that the primary source of MIDS funding comes in the form of grants from ICSSR and the state government. Contrast this with the statement that "it is the case of the first respondent, that it has got its own sources of funding." This is from the Madras High Court judgment dated 23 November 2006 in the writ petitions filed by two faculty members against the MIDS Chairman and Director for violating the faculty recruitment rules which went against them. If MIDS has its own resources why blame governments and also cringe before them. In any case, the additional one crore mentioned in the report is an exaggeration, just to misguide the report.

 

MIDS did not sell its land for want of money. The land was Dr Adiseshiah's estate bequeathed to MIDS. The Trustees and the Governing Council had discussed at length how best the estate could be used, and decided that the best thing to do was sell it and add the proceedings to the MIDS corpus.

 

As the report was in poor taste, an angry scholar from the JNU replied to it through an email dated November 17, which was in circulation among various discussion groups. The email captures the deception of both the MIDS Director and the journalist:

 

The problem of MIDS is partly historical because it was registered as a Trust; - Trusts by their very nature are vulnerable to manipulation and lack transparency -; partly the persistence of white-collar slavery as one sees the abject surrender of the MIDS Chairman and Director to the Trustees; and partly absentee landlordism, with the Bangalore-based Chairman of the Board of Trustees lording the Hyderabad-based MIDS Chairman, who being indecisive relaying the Kurien commandments to the Chennai-based MIDS Director, who being inexperienced in the working of ICSSR institutions leaving everything to the whims of a humpty-dumpty in the administration and another humpty-dumpty in the accounts section.

 

As money spent on institutions like MIDS is money thrown down the drain, it is high time the funding agencies seriously thought about the future funding of MIDS. Meanwhile, to bring about a modicum of transparency, the ICSSR and Tamil Nadu Government should insist that MIDS subjects itself to the purview of the Right to Information Act and display the relevant details on its website. It is strange that MIDS has not done this so far though other ICSSR institutions have done it long ago. The Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, should also order an immediate review of the functioning of these institutions; more so, when huge funds received from foreign agencies are not shown anywhere.

 

Prof Radhakrishnan