New Delhi: Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank’s office has said that an appeal terming his educational qualification fake was filed with “malafide intention” to defame him, and added there is no problem with his degrees.
An appeal filed in President Ram Nath Kovind’s office this week called for declaring Pokhriyal’s oath-taking as Cabinet minister null and void, on the basis of his “fake” doctorate degree, which he obtained from Open International University of Sri Lanka.
The petition was filed by a Himachal Pradesh-based rebel BJP leader, Manoj Verma, on 27 August. It said he took the oath calling himself “Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank”, but his doctorate degree is fake.
Responding to the petition, the office of the HRD minister said it was filed with a “malafide intention” and he has honorary doctorates from other universities as well.
A source in the minister’s office, however, agreed that the Open International University of Sri Lanka is not recognised by India.
‘A writer of international repute’
In his letter to the President’s office, Verma, who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election against Pokhriyal from Haridwar as a rebel candidate, sought to point out a “major omission/error in oath-taking by Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank as Union Cabinet Minister on May 30, 2019 which may be legally wrong and not qualified as per the spirit of Constitution of India”.
“Mr Nishank prefixed Dr before his name while taking his oath. But the fact is that he does not hold any doctorate degree. In fact, the ‘doctorate’ degree which he has been claiming to hold is ‘fake’ honorary doctorate degree given to him by some dubious institution in Srilanka,” he added in the letter, which has been accessed by ThePrint.
In his petition, Verma has also questioned the validity of Pokhriyal’s MA degree. According to the affidavit submitted by the minister to the Election Commission as well as his official website, he did his master’s from Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna (HNB) University, Garhwal, in Srinagar, Uttarakhand.
To this end, Verma cited an RTI query filed by one Rajesh Madhukant, saying he had failed to secure proof of Pokhriyal’s degree from the university despite the central information commissioner’s intervention in 2016.
In a detailed email response released to the media, the minister’s office wrote, “The Minister was conferred Doctorate (Honoris Causa) from Graphic Era University (Deemed to be University). He was also conferred Doctorate (Honoris Causa)… by Uttarakhand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya. The HRD Minister was awarded an MA degree from HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, in 1986.”
The response added that the minister is a writer of “international repute (with more than 60 books)”, and that more than half a dozen students were awarded PhDs based on research on his books, “including in Garhwal University, Kumaon University (sic) and Kurukshetra University, among others”.
Not the first time
This is the second time Pokhriyal’s honorary educational qualifications have come under question, the first instance being right after he was sworn in this May.
According to a June 2018 report in The Statesman, an RTI reply from the High Commission of India in Colombo stated that the “Open International University for Complementary Medicines in Colombo (Sri Lanka) is not recognised by the University Grants Commission – Sri Lanka”.
The reply reportedly stated the university is “unregistered… fake, bogus or dubious education institute operating from Colombo”.
When a discrepancy was pointed out in the birth dates mentioned on his degrees and ID proofs, Pokhriyal reportedly cited the “Hindu horoscope” as reason.
The Open International University for Complementary Medicines, from where Nishank claims to have received an honorary PhD, is based in Sri Lanka capital Colombo.
According to the official website of the university, “It is an International Organisation formed in 1962 congruent to the policy objectives of the World Health Organisation.”
However, it is not recognised by the Indian government. According to a letter issued by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in 1998, an autonomous research and development agency working in the areas of science and technology, any degree given by the university should not be recognised.
“No recognition should be given to the degree/diploma and or any other academic distinction conferred by this university (Open International University of Srilanka),” the letter read.
Diplomatic sources told ThePrint that they weren’t sure whether degrees from the open university in question were recognised in India.