New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT-G) has removed a final-year PhD scholar for making “defamatory social media posts” about the institute and sending “derogatory” emails with “false accusations” to faculty and functionaries.
Vikrant Singh, 30, was served the termination letter on 25 June. Vikrant has accused the institute of several irregularities, including fund misappropriation and “flaws” in management, and has repeatedly raised the allegations on social media.
The institute has described him as a repeat violator of discipline who squandered multiple chances to resolve his grievances and defend himself against the charges. Among other things, he has been accused of defaming the institute and its functionaries on social media “without verifying the facts”.
The current row dates back over a year, to 4-7 January 2020, when Vikrant and another PhD student at IIT-G, Himanchal Singh, were believed to have mobilised students for a hunger strike to protest against the “compulsory retirement” of Brajesh Rai, a faculty member in the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering.
Rai, who was Vikrant’s research guide, had accused the institute of corruption and mismanagement.
Vikrant and Himanchal were suspended, but the latter was allowed to return after reportedly signing a pledge that he would not take part in any protests. Vikrant told ThePrint that eight other students were called by the institute’s students’ disciplinary committee and let go after a warning
In the days since, Vikrant has also accused the institute of not acting on several requests for a new thesis supervisor, made from March 2020 onwards, and denying him the stipend given to PhD scholars. He has denied all allegations levelled at him by the institute. He also said his appeal against the charges, made last year, wasn’t forwarded to the IIT-G Board of Governors.
IIT-G has hit back at Vikrant’s allegations as well, saying he did not fulfil “some mandatory academic formalities that he needed to follow to get the stipend”.
What the row is about
Vikrant, who did his Master’s from IIT-Bhubaneswar, claims that he was first made to appear before the students’ disciplinary committee in January 2020, right after the protest. According to him, it is here that he was first informed that he would be put on “suspended academic expulsion” through a notice.
All the students subsequently left the campus in light of the Covid pandemic.
On 23 March 2020, Vikrant said he wrote a letter of appeal to the IIT-G Board of Governors stating that the charges levied against him during the disciplinary committee meeting were different from what was written in the notice.
He alleged the “penalty imposed upon me is an act of curbing students’ voice”.
On 29 October 2020, weighing in on a news report about the arrest of a JEE “topper” who had allegedly used a proxy candidate in the exam, he wrote a scathing Facebook post about IITs.
On 10 March 2021, Vikrant was sent a notice informing him that he had been suspended for the duration of one semester from 10 March to 27 July 2021. The charges levelled were “indulgence in misrepresentation of facts related to the institute without proper verification”.
Nearly a week later, on 16 March, Vikrant took to Facebook and put up several posts defending himself and claiming that the institute was “lying”. He also posted a picture of an RTI plea he had allegedly filed to find out whether his appeal was shared with the Board of Governors. The RTI, he said, didn’t yield a result.
On 26 June, he was sent the termination letter, accessed by ThePrint. The allegations were “defamatory social media posts, offensive letters/emails to various institute functionaries, as well as to the student disciplinary committee (SDC)”, that the institute said were “highly disruptive to the academic environment of the institute”.
Vikrant had also accused the institute of fund misappropriation in 2019, which led to an FIR against IIT-G Director T.G. Sitharam and the institute’s deans.
Asked about the allegations, Vikrant told ThePrint that “Brijesh Rai has evidence that funds were being misappropriated in the institution”.
“Despite several pieces of evidence, no action was taken against the director T.G. Sitharam. The process through which Prof Rai was eventually asked to retire was unfair and unjust. I was simply talking about the poor state of affairs at my institution on my social media account,” he added.
Vikrant said he would move the Gauhati High Court to challenge his termination.
IIT-G has accused Vikrant “of indulging in multiple disciplinary violations, committing offences of highest order repeatedly”.
“He was provided numerous opportunities to defend himself, to come back to mainstream, as well as present his case against every charge, however, he either did not appear before the students’ disciplinary committee (SDC) nor (sic) did he show any intention to discuss and solve his grievances,” the institute said in an emailed response to ThePrint’s queries.
Vikrant, it said, “has taken recourse to social media without trying to resolve issues internally within the institute”.
According to the IIT-G, Vikrant “instigated students through emails, messages, speeches and social media postings with false information about various decisions taken by the Institute administration”.
“This includes sitting for a hunger strike (fast unto death) for matters (suspension order issued to a faculty member) which is not relevant to students,” it said.
Vikrant, it added, “sent several derogatory emails” to faculty members that “contained not only derogatory language but also false accusations against the faculty members, resulting in intimidation and defamation”.
Accusing Vikrant of “multiple disciplinary violations”, the institute also rejected his allegations about not being given a mentor and stipend, saying he was “using tactics to divert the media from the key issue of his repeat violation of discipline… since 2017, leading to his termination”.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)