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Sunday, May 12, 2013

WANT A 'DOCTORATE DEGREE', PAY 70K TO GET AT HOME

By Sandip Roy / Shillong

The Meghalaya CID is probing a private university for selling degrees. INN finds out how the business operated.

His burning ambition was to become a lecturer at a government college. But 31-year-old Samir Gupta* from Bihar, who teaches at a private school in New Delhi, didn’t want to waste three-five years for a PhD degree.

“I desperately wanted to get a PhD,” says Gupta. “A friend told me about the Shillong- based CMJ University. All I had to do was pay Rs 70,000. I didn’t attend any classes or work on my thesis. Everything was taken care of. I always stayed in touch with the enrolment agent in Bihar. Now, I have a PhD. I’m waiting for my certificate to arrive.”
But Gupta’s wait is likely to go on because the varsity is under the scanner for awarding suspicious degrees.

The bubble burst on 30 April when Meghalaya Governor Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary, who is also the university’s Visitor, ordered the varsity to withdraw all degrees awarded so far. Armed with an order from the sessions judge of East Khasi Hills districts, the state CID raided the varsity HQ in Shillong and other places in the Northeast in early May and sealed its offices.

In 2009, the Meghalaya Assembly passed the CMJ University Act, 2009, paving the way for the CMJ Foundation, led by businessmen Chandra Mohan Jha, 55, to start the university. In a similar vein, six other private varsities were also established.

Since 2010, the CMJ University has created a record of sorts by enrolling 3,379 students. In 2012-13, it awarded as many as 434 PhD degrees.

Mooshahary’s letter claims that in the proposal submitted for Jha’s appointment as the varsity chancellor, it is mentioned that Jha is the director of colleges within and outside Meghalaya, without clearly indicating to which university the colleges are affiliated. One of these was Shillong Engineering and Management College, whose affiliation was cancelled by the North Eastern Hill University in 2011-12. The governor’s letter also indicated that the PhD programme was being conducted in violation of UGC guidelines as it didn’t meet its minimum standards. The governor had asked the CMJ Foundation to comply with his directives and submit a compliance report by 21 May.

Ironically, on 1 May, the CMJ authorities issued a public notice, claiming that the varsity would hold its first convocation in August and award degrees to all the successful candidates. It also claimed it has a full-fledged campus at Jorabat in Ri Bhoi district and study centres across Meghalaya. However, the students denied knowledge of any such campus.

Meanwhile, the affected students have urged the state government to repeal the governor’s ruling and allow the CMJ University to conduct exams scheduled for 24 May. At the same time, the Higher Education Department in Assam has launched a probe to find out college teachers working in the state who have received post-graduate degrees from the varsity. According to sources, some of the teachers have paid Rs 1.5 lakh to acquire fake PhDs awarded by CMJ University.

Jha, who hails from Bihar, came to Shillong after Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972. He started off as a petty contractor but soon hobnobbed with politicians, especially those belonging to the Congress. He is known to be close to DD Lapang, who was the CM when the state gave the nod to the varsity.

Lapang, who was also the chairman of the North East India Trust for Education and Development, was forced to quit after the trust failed to repay a loan. “The trust had taken up a telemedicine education project in Shillong. The money was withdrawn fraudulently. There was enough evidence against Jha, but political patronage saved him,” says a police officer.

After the governor’s recent directive against the CMJ University, Jha has fled Shillong and is believed to be hiding in Bihar. CID sources have confirmed that a hunt is on to trace his whereabouts.

“Shillong has always been the Northeast’s education hub,” says Meghalaya Times Editor Thomas Lim. “Study centres of many private universities operate here. Before allowing anyone to set up shop, their background should be vetted. But it seems the state is itself allowing people to open up shops to sell degrees. There is no political will to check this.”
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