Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh professor Vinay Kumar Pathak has had a high-flying career as the vice-chancellor of numerous universities, but the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe launched against him this month for alleged corruption, extortion and criminal intimidation has revived old questions about his academic credentials — from accusations of plagiarism to him having fudged his CV to get plum posts.
Still serving as the vice-chancellor (V-C) of Kanpur’s Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj (CSJM) University, Pathak was booked by the state police last October after a contractor accused him of bribery and corruption. Subsequently, three of his purported associates were arrested and the CBI, too, lodged an FIR on 7 January.
Pathak’s continuation in his post, meanwhile, has led to allegations from the opposition Samajwadi Party that he still has supporters in high places, including the UP Governor, who is the de facto chancellor of state-run universities like CSJM.
This is not Pathak’s first brush with controversy. About four years ago, he was accused of submitting incorrect information in his CV while applying for the post of V-C of the APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University (AKTU) in Lucknow — an appointment he bagged in 2015. There were also allegations that he had plagiarised academic papers.
While a probe committee was formed to investigate these charges, it largely gave him a clean chit, leading to further allegations in 2021 that the panel itself was compromised.
Pathak was first accused of plagiarism and inflating his CV in 2018. In May that year, Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav had complained to the UP additional chief secretary and asked for an inquiry. A month later, Lucknow resident Virat Singh had also complained to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), now known as the Education Ministry.
It was alleged that Pathak had submitted wrong information about his dates of appointment as assistant professor and then professor in Harcourt Butler Technical University (HBTU, formerly known as Harcourt Butler Technical Institute or HBTI) in his CV submitted to the office of the UP Governor while applying for the post of AKTU V-C. Further, he was accused of plagiarising two papers, dating to 2010 and 2013, listed in his CV.
The UGC subsequently directed HBTI/HBTU to form a panel to look into the charges. A three-member committee, however, concluded that the incorrect dates were “likely a typographical error” and that the plagiarised papers were the handiwork of one of Pathak’s students. In the meantime, Pathak’s tenure as V-C of AKTU was extended.
The matter flared up again in April 2021, around the time that Pathak was appointed as the V-C of CSJM. That same month, Dharmendra Yadav, president of the Technical Universities Teachers’ Association (TUTA) and a member of the Samajwadi Party, again complained to the UP Governor about plagiarism and false dates in Pathak’s CV.
In his complaint, Yadav also questioned the “integrity” of the HBTI/HBTU committee that had earlier cleared Pathak of wrongdoing. When asked about this, the university’s former V-C, N.B. Singh, who had constituted the panel, denied that there were any irregularities in the investigation.
CSJM University officials said the report had been submitted to the UGC and the governor’s office and a response could be sought from there.
“The student who had submitted the research paper in which plagiarism was alleged had admitted before the inquiry committee that he was the sole author in one of the papers,” a university official added.
ThePrint has emailed a detailed questionnaire to the UP governor’s office, which has not been answered. This report will be updated when a response is received.
Also read: ‘Misappropriation of funds, extortion’— why is Kanpur University VC Vinay Pathak under CBI lens
‘Wilfully provided wrong information’ or typo?
In his April 2021 complaint, TUTA president Yadav said Pathak’s CV, which he submitted to the Governor in 2015, contained falsified information. The CV, which ThePrint has seen, claims Pathak, a PhD in computer science, served as an assistant professor at HBTI/HBTU Kanpur from 1998 to 2006 and that he was appointed as a professor there on 18 January, 2006.
However, the complaint alleges Pathak was assistant professor since 19 August, 1999, and professor since 18 January, 2007.
“Dr Vinay Kumar Pathak has willfully provided wrong information about his positions of Assistant Professor and Professor. The information given in the CV is wrong,” the complaint says.
ThePrint accessed HBTI/HBTU records from 2002 containing the “seniority list” of its professors at that time. It mentioned 19 August, 1999, as Pathak’s date of appointment as assistant professor. Another university list said Pathak was appointed as professor on 18, January 2007. Both these dates corroborate the complaint.
Notably, the three-member HBTI/HBTU committee formed in 2018 had agreed that the dates in the CV were wrong. But it claimed that this was “irrelevant”.
The committee’s findings, which ThePrint has seen, said that the dates had no bearing on his qualifications as VC and were likely a “typographical error”.
Independent academics ThePrint spoke to, however, said that any inflation of the number of years served as professor affects the Academic Performance Indicator (API) score, which is a metric for evaluating the merit of academics for university posts.
Speaking to ThePrint, Professor J.P. Sharma, former V-C of Noida’s Gautam Buddha University, said that vice-chancellors must satisfy certain set criteria, including at least 10 years of professorship in a college or university.
“For the post of V-C, there are different criteria including at least 10 years of professorship, one’s administrative experience, an impeccable character, and achievements,” Sharma said.
“In normal cases, if there are any plagiarism or other charges against a person disclosed at the time of selection, the person may be eligible for the post and can apply. But the selection board will take everything into account, including the charges and whether any action was taken against the candidate. It depends on whether the charges get disclosed at the time of selection or not,” he added.
In July 2018, incidentally, the UGC brought about stringent regulations (and penalties) to prevent plagiarism and promote integrity in higher educational institutions.
Also read: How ‘pride of Prayagraj’ became latest flashpoint in tussle between UP netas & officials
‘100% copied’, student blamed
The allegations of plagiarism against Pathak pertain to two papers published in two different journals of unknown pedigree.
One was a 2010 paper titled ‘Clinical gait data analysis based on spatio-temporal features’ published in the International Journal of Computer Science and Information Security. It cites Rohit Kaityar of HBTI/HBTU as the author and Pathak as co-author.
In his complaint to the Governor, Yadav claimed that this was a “100 per cent plagiaristic copy” of a 2007 paper, ‘Extracting a diagnostic gait signature’, by Liverpool University researcher Heba Lakany, published in the peer-reviewed journal Pattern Recognition.
The next instance of alleged plagiarism was a 2013 paper, ‘A study on existing gait biometrics approaches and challenges’ published in the International Journal of Computer Science Issues. This paper cites Kaityar, Pathak, and one K.V. Arya as co-authors.
Yadav’s complaint claims that the contents of this paper are also “100 per cent copied” from four different journal articles.
Back in August 2018, this matter had even come up in Parliament, when Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and then Rajya Sabha MP K.K. Ragesh had asked the government about instances of plagiarism by academics.
In response, then MHRD minister of state Satya Pal Singh had said that three such cases had come before the UGC in the previous three years, including that of Vinay Pathak. In one case, Singh said, the V-C of Puducherry University had been dismissed, while “the other two universities have been asked to take action”.
Speaking to ThePrint, Ragesh, who is presently the private secretary of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, said that he had not been satisfied by the answer.
“Some action should have been taken after the reply, but there was no investigation,” he claimed.
In Pathak’s case, the UGC had directed HBTI/HBTU to form a panel to probe the plagiarism charges, which in turn had found Pathak not responsible for the copied content.
IIT-Kanpur professor Manindra Agrawal, who headed this panel, told ThePrint that if anyone was guilty of plagiarism, it was Pathak’s student.
“There was a very clear case of plagiarism. In one of the two papers, Pathak was not mentioned as the author, his student was. Since our charter was to investigate allegations against Pathak, it was not found true for one paper,” he said.
“In the other paper, Pathak was also an author. The student in question and Pathak both gave very similar explanations that the former was in a hurry to get his degree and hence submitted a plagiarised paper,” he added.
Agrawal further said that Pathak had taken corrective action when he learned about the plagiarism by asking the journal to withdraw the paper and dropping mention of it from his CV.
“The panel concluded that as an academician, it is possible that a student plagiarises and it is impossible for us to check every paper… What is important is what you do after you get to know it. Pathak took all the right steps. So, we found that the charge of plagiarism does not get proven against Pathak but stands against the student, who admitted to it,” he said.
But in the copy of Pathak’s CV that ThePrint has seen, the 2010 paper was mentioned under his list of publications and cited Pathak as the “sole author”.
Asked about this paper, Agrawal said: “When we saw the papers, he (Pathak) submitted the evidence to the effect that he was not the author in one of the papers. It may be that there were two sets of papers.”
In a 28 January, 2019, letter to the MHRD, the UGC noted the findings of the committee. “The allegations against Professor Pathak made in the complaints and media are not proven except for finding no. 4 [inaccurate dates on CV], which is found to be irrelevant,” says the letter, which ThePrint has seen.
Questions around panel’s ‘integrity’
In his 2021 complaint, Dharmendra Yadav alleged that there was a “question mark” on the “integrity” of the probe panel.
The committee had been constituted by then HBTI/HBTU vice-chancellor N.B Singh. It was headed by IIT-Kanpur professor Manindra Agrawal and the other two members were Dr. M.N. Doja of Jamia Millia Islamia — currently director of the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Sonepat — and Dr Rajeev Tripathi, former director of Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT), Allahabad, Prayagraj.
The complaint said that evidence of “collusion” between the panel and Pathak had been “established”.
“Dr. N.B. Singh is a professor of civil engineering at Institute of Engineering and Technology, Lucknow (IET). IET is a constituent college of AKTU Lucknow which was headed by Prof. Vinay Kumar Pathak as V-C. Pathak is a professor of Computer Science at HBTU Kanpur which was headed by N.B. Singh as V-C earlier. On the other side, Pathak was a reporting officer of Dr. N.B. Singh who constituted the inquiry committee as per Pathak’s wishes. The collusion and quid pro quo is established,” Yadav said in his complaint.
He further alleged in the complaint that Manindra Agrawal has regularly worked in different committees that Pathak constituted in AKTU.
Speaking to ThePrint, Dharmendra Yadav said he had filed a Right to Information (RTI) query in February 2019 seeking the details of the committee’s findings, but though he got a reply two years later, he was yet to see the entire report.
“During the hearing of my last appeal before the then CIC [central information commissioner], I sought the entire inquiry report but was refused this as the latter said that it was the V-C’s personal information,” he said.
Asked about the complaint, N.B. Singh said he had constituted the committee but had no other association with it.
“Since Pathak was appointed as a professor in the computer science department at HBTU Kanpur, the UGC had sent the letter to HBTU. As V-C, I constituted a three-member committee. Since the matter pertained to plagiarism of paper publication of computer science department, three members associated with computer science were selected. I don’t know if they were associated with Pathak or not, they were randomly selected. I was not a member and in no way associated with the committee,” he said.
“Whatever report the committee submitted to HBTU was sent to the UGC and the Governor of UP,” he added.
When queried about the complaint, Agrawal told ThePrint the committee had described its investigation process and reasoning in detail in the report.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
Also read: What Panjab University ex V-C Raj Kumar is accused of: ‘Recruitment scam, undue favours, nepotism’