<<Citizen Selection Procedure

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Prof. Rajeev Kumar
It was exactly three years ago that 50-year-old Rajeev Kumar, a computer science engineering professor at IIT Kharagpur, took up the fight for transparency in selection process of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Armed with the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Rajeev Kumar has over the years forced IITs to gradually disclose their closely-guarded secret of selection procedure and also started a country-wide debate on how to improve the system. His battle, which began when his 19-year-old son Sanchit missed an IIT seat by just three marks in the joint entrance examination (IIT-JEE), has not ended as he tirelessly continues to battle to bring transparency to these premier institutions. He is fighting a case in Kolkata High Court on behalf of students who missed a chance to get into IITs in 2006 and has opened a forum in cyberspace. Though his son missed his chance in IIT in 2006, he is pursuing BTech in computer science engineering at Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

It was a newspaper report on IAS aspirants using Right to Information (RTI) that made Prof Rajeev Kumar take up the battle for transparency in selection procedure of IITs. “I read how these students had taken their fight against UPSC till the doors of Central Information Commission (CIC, the final appellate authority for RTI Act). I remember it was September 5, 2006 when CIC ordered UPSC to reveal their admission and selection procedure. After reading the article I realized that if a holy cow like UPSC can be asked to do this, why not Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs)?” says Prof Rajeev Kumar.

And so started his journey to find out how the premier institutions choose their students. For the first time that year, IITs had decided to reveal marks obtained by students in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), which takes place in May.

When IITs released the marks in August, students couldn’t find any pattern to the selection process. Sanchit with a high aggregate of 224 marks got rejected but a student with 154 got a counseling call. As this did not make any sense, Prof Kumar wrote letters to directors of all IITs. However, there was no response. As his own institution – IIT Kharagpur – had conducted the examination in 2006, he gradually found out that there was a concept of cut-off marks. This was determined by a complex procedure every year.

“By then I got to know about UPSC order and I filed my first RTI application in September 2006,” he says. “I asked them what were the cut-off marks in each subject and what were the marks scored by the top 2,000 students who have got through.” He did not get any response from IIT. He filed a first appeal, which was again ignored. While he appealed to CIC for his first application, he filed a second application and asked for the procedure followed to determine the cut-off marks, the question paper with model answers and names of all the people associated with the examination procedure of 2006. IIT said in an evasive reply to this application that there was “no set procedure to determine cut-off marks” and also refused to reveal the question paper. Undeterred by evasive replies, Prof Kumar filed a third application in January 2007 on the number of students who got marks above the cut-off marks and had got selected.

Even when he knocked on the doors of CIC, which has its office in New Delhi, the process was not simple. “I am not complaining. But it is just that CIC was very slow in its process. They managed to club appeals on all my three applications only in April 2007 and ordered the information be released,” says Prof Kumar. One year after the examination results of JEE 2006 came out, he finally got the cut-off marks and the procedure by which it was determined. He says, “Till date they have not been able to explain how they reached that cut-off. By using the same procedures we have got much lower cut-off marks. They gave yet another procedure in September 2007, this was a second one and then a third procedure they have given to Kolkata high court just recently in August 2009. They need to decide what do they follow.”

A word here about the selection process. The world-class institutions have a very complicated procedure of choosing its students. Every year, lakhs of students appear for IIT-JEE, an examination which tests the analytical abilities of a student in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. The students have to get pre-determined cut-off marks in each subject and aggregate marks to get a call for counseling.

Each year this process is conducted by a different IIT. For instance, in 2006 IIT Kharagpur conducted JEE but in 2009 the responsibility fell on IIT Delhi. The process of setting the question paper, solving it and making a final paper takes a year. IIT professors point out that every year a different selection process is followed to determine the cut-off marks. It is never a simple mathematical function used to determine cut-off. Not all questions carry same marks – they are different with more difficult questions (or those with more than one answer) carrying more weightage. In this IITs want to test the analytical ability more than any other skill of the student.

Every IIT conducting this test forms an admission board (like an examination committee) to determine crucial issues. It asks different professors to formulate some questions. Each question is then examined by 5-6 professors and they spend at least a week or 10 days solving it, in the process deleting all possibilities of multiple answers. Several questions are rejected at this stage for either being too simple or too difficult or sometimes just for the possibility of having more than 2 answers. Several questions are even rejected after the examination if professors feel that they were really too difficult for students to answer. Here, a possibility arises on how to compensate a student who has tried to attempt that question – even if unsuccessfully. IIT professors involved with the admission procedure say that there is a way to compensate the student because after all he has spent time in attempting the question at the cost of others and it would be unfair to completely ignore his efforts.

There are many nuances to this complex procedure, which have not been revealed by IITs. This is what Prof Kumar wanted to bring before anxious students and their parents. “Students have a right to know the cut-off procedure and selection criteria before they appear for the examination. IITs have never given out question papers. Why? The same question papers you can access within a day at FIIT-JEE website (a very popular chain of coaching institutes to crack IIT-JEE). If a private coaching centre can release the paper, then IIT should officially release it,” says this former DRDO scientist.

This is what Prof Kumar did. In August 2007, he was finally given marks of all students who had cleared the cut-off for Physics and similar lists for Chemistry and Mathematics. He merged the three lists and removed duplication to come up with a consolidated list of over 32,000 candidates. This list obviously had the students who had also cleared the aggregate cut-off and those who had cleared one or more cut-off for subjects. He then calculated the cut-off marks by the procedure furnished by IIT Kharagpur. He says he was shocked to find that the cut-offs worked out much lower at 22 for Physics, 26 for Chemistry and 24 for Mathematics.

“This just showed that Sanchit and 993 others were wrongly excluded from the list of students who got a call for counseling,” says Prof Kumar. Armed with this revelation he approached Kolkata High Court to fight for the rights of these students. “I was pained to know that there were so many deserving students, much more deserving than Sanchit, who had been denied admission,” he says. However, the judge did not find any merit in questioning the admission board’s decision and did not allow the petition. The case is still pending before a division bench of the high court.

Through 2007 and 2008, IITs were repeatedly directed by CIC to furnish information to Prof Rajeev Kumar. However, IITs gave no concrete information. IITs continued to flout successive CIC orders giving irrelevant data. For Prof Kumar, it meant a trip to Delhi each time IIT Kharagpur gave misleading replies to him. He had to come to Delhi and appeal to CIC to re-open his case or sometimes to give notice to IIT to give him information.

The institution was forced to open up. He got personal details of candidates who had got selected. “I found out how sons of senior IIT professors, who were involved in the examination process, got selected,” he alleges. As Prof Kumar brought media focus on to the issue, the IITs were forced to declare their procedure of calculating cut-off marks well in advance. The institutions now declare the procedure on the website before the examination. The issue was even raised in Parliament. Parliamentary standing committee on human resource development even expressed concern over “cut-off controversy”.
However, there are still miles to go. Prof Rajeev Kumar is still trying to find convincing answers to many questions. Why did IIT Kharagpur shred all answer sheets for JEE 2006 in December that year when its own rules say that the copies should be retained for a year? Did it fear some questions would be raised on its procedure? How do sons and daughters of IIT professors are always selected?

So what keeps him going on? “I fear that they would do the same to my younger daughter and many like her,” he says as he gets ready to leave for Kolkata from Kharagpur for yet another hearing date before division bench of High Court. His is fighting his battle relentlessly. He suddenly remembers, “I know you are thinking that three years have gone past and even if I win this case what will happen? But through RTI I have found out that there has been a case when an IIT director Amitabh Bhattacharya’s son Nilanjan was transferred from a university to IIT. He got his credits transferred. So this can happen for other students also.”

He is hopeful that if he wins the case his son Sanchit might just be able to finish his final year of college in IIT Kharagpur. “They hid this information from me for one and a half years but I got it through,” he chuckles. But after all these years of filing applications and taking 20-30 trips a year to New Delhi he rues the fact that CIC always shies away from imposing penalty. “Even now their order has been violated and it has only threatened action. No penalty has been imposed. So that is why officials know that nothing would happen to them and they keep refusing information. This must change,” he says.

Rough work
The students should know in advance

Sanchit: He got admission everywhere in all the top engineering schools of the country in Kolkata in Delhi, everywhere. Jadavpur University admission. Jadavpur computer science engineering. I have asked for a transfer. Credit transfer. IIT director’s son. B Tech course

I got complete data in 2009

Question papers are not given. Solutions are given after 2-3 months. If FIIT-JEE can do why cannot
STATUS PRESENT: Shailesh Gandhi: They haven’t given the procedure. April 2009 passed CIC will invoke all the laws if IIT suppresses

Two applications filed. Sept 28.
Many top IIT professors sons
135 marksin chemistry. Deputy director’s R K Thareja. His son didn’t write in the application. He was the dean academics.

2007: Publish the process. They did. Cut-off has reduced They are publishing the procedures before the examination. Cut-off marks they are releasing every year. How to verify that this is correct and high profile people are not selected. It is not their personal information.
For 2009 I filed RTI application they didn’t respond. CIC issued the order. They have refused the data. Non compliance
I asked marks of all the students. Their parents names.

I found high profile parents. By securing very high marks in students. They shredded their scripts. Their own law says that they are supposed to keep the script for one year. Within 3-4 months.

I was posted at dehradun. I was a scientist. One son sanchit and another daughter she is in class 12. I will fear IIT will exclude her. Highest scholarship Kishore Vaigyanik holder. They are going back. 2009 they said they will not disclose the marksheet.
Amitabh Bhattarcharya son was Nilanjan Bhattacharya. Every letter
CIC is not doing no penalty and non-compliance. Main grievance. Not a single paisa has been penalized. Only once O P Kejariwal said that IIT should give me to and fro fare. But that was after I had been to CIC at least 20-30 times. Once they suddenly closed my case. Instead of giving me info they gave to CIC. All of it was garbage. Based on that CIC closed sept 26, 07. Suddenly they closed the case. The info has to be. I had to make 10 rounds of CIC to get the case opened.
Which he done CBSE but not to IIT. These things I feel really bad. I have highest regard for SG,

RTI has helped me a lot. Then I personally searched their records.

I approached MHRD. I met Arjun Singh. I am going to file ATR from PM, president and MHRD. Even more deserving than my son. File notings are easily accessible now. So I will ask them what have they done