New Delhi: Days before the government announced new appointments to three Central universities, a complainant from Lucknow had written to President Ram Nath Kovind flagging allegations of plagiarism against one of them. However, the Centre went ahead and granted vigilance clearance for the particular appointment.
On April 11, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) had announced the appointments of Najma Akhtar as vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, Sanjiv Sharma as vice-chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Bihar’s Motihari, and Rajneesh Kumar Shukla as vice-chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya in Maharashtra’s Wardha.
The ministry had issued a circular announcing the appointments after seeking approval from the Election Commission of India since the Model Code of Conduct has been in force since the schedule of the Lok Sabha elections were announced last month.
Shukla, member secretary of both Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) and Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR), has been accused of plagiarising another academic’s thesis during his term as reader at Varanasi’s Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya.
Ten days before the ministry’s announcement, Lucknow resident Chandra Pal Singh had sent a letter to President Ramnath Kovind via email, a copy of which is with News18, flagging his expected appointment.
Singh has demanded a probe into the method of Shukla’s appointment. He has also sought Shukla’s removal from his posts at ICPR and ICHR.
Singh had addressed his appeal to Kovind, who is also the Visitor of the central university. The email’s subject line reads: “This is regarding the demand to probe into the accusation of thesis theft against the VC candidate Rajneesh Kumar Shukla for MGAHV. Kindly take appropriate action and restore the glory of higher education.”
The email alleged that Shukla indulged in “thesis theft” and called upon the President to exercise his powers in his capacity as Visitor and avert the appointment of the candidate picked by the Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar.
According to the email, two theses with the same name – ‘Kant Ke Soundarya Shastra Vishayak Vicharon Ka Adhyan’, a study of Kantian Aesthetics – were submitted at Varanasi’s Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalaya. While the first (serial no. 147630) was submitted by Sudha Pandey in 1991, Shukla submitted the same thesis (serial no. 222899) in 1995.
“I am a responsible citizen of the country, and I have full faith that Bharat will become a ‘vishwa guru’ (world leader), but going by the media report the candidate sent to you for appointment at Wardha University has copied someone else’s thesis,” Singh wrote. “The minister (Javadekar) has sent his name to you but doesn’t seem to know this. He is also the member secretary at ICPR and ICHR, and his name is Rajneesh Kumar Shukla. He is accused of thesis theft – it is unbelievable to know that he has copied the thesis of Sudha Pandey and has got the degree from BHU, it is a stain on BHU. The minister seems to be unaware of the allegation but we would like to bring this to your notice.”
Pandey in 2014 had written to the then Uttar Pradesh Governor, who is also the chancellor of the university, regarding the thesis theft.
“My Ph.D ‘Kant Ka Soundarya Shastra’ has been stolen word by word by Dr Rajneesh Kumar Shukla, Reader, Comparative Religion, philosophy department, Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, and submitted in Kashi Hindu Vishwavidyalaya,” Pandey had written. “This was brought to my notice and I complained about it. Despite my complaints, he was made the professor. All rules were flouted.”
However, sources from the HRD ministry said the government was “not aware of these charges and Shukla was given vigilance clearance”.
Meanwhile, Shukla claimed that he was being targeted due to competition in the field. “This is a very old allegation framed against me. Ahead of the appointment, an investigation has been done and vigilance has given me clearance,” he told News18. “I am being targeted because of the competition in our field.”
While the complainant has sent the parts of the thesis that he alleged were stolen, Shukla, while maintaining his innocence, said, “The investigations have given me clearance.”