New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur has set up a committee to draft a policy on plagiarism after the institute’s recommendation to cancel the PhD dissertation of a Dalit teacher, who had complained of harassment and discrimination, on allegations of plagiarism generated a huge outcry in academic circles.
On March 14, 2019 the Senate of the institute recommended to the Board of Governors (BoG) that Subrahmanyam Sadrela’s thesis should be revoked. This happened despite the Academics Ethics Cell saying that it found “no reason to revoke the thesis”. The cell said in its report, “there are no allegations with regards to the scholar’s own research work, including detailed experiments table’s figures and the conclusions drawn from them.”
The charges of plagiarism against Sadrela were made in an anonymous email sent to several faculty members on October 15, 2018 — two months after an inquiry by a retired High Court judge found the four teachers guilty of violating the conduct rules of IIT-K and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. The Board of Governors will take a final decision on the thesis on April 9.
Modifications to UGC draft policy
The Director of IIT-Kanpur Abhay Karandikar acknowledged that the institute has no policy on plagiarism till date, and a committee was set up in January to look into the issue, only after the anonymous email was sent.
“The mail was sent in October and in January we formed the committee. So far we do not have any policy on plagiarism. The Committee is reading the UGC draft of 2018 and looking into how it can be modified to our needs. Right now there is no clarity on how do we handle these things – the committee will look into ways of institutionalizing the process of handling plagiarism,” he said.
In July 2018 UGC issued a circular on titled Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Educational Institutions. However, according to Karandikar, it isn’t mandatory for IITs to follow the rules of the policy. To this, a senior official in the ministry of Human Resource Development said, "We expect all Institutions to follow the national standards set under the UGC Regulation." But Karandikar maintains that there is no need to impart training to IIT students on how to avoid plagiarism, as “it is the general practice in reputed international universities.”
The IIT director further stressed on the need to have some sort of gradation when dealing with scientific frauds like plagiarism. “Just like we cannot hang someone for the theft of Rs 100, we have to define the levels of penalty applied for plagiarism, ranging from severe to minor.”
Standing for Sadrela
The Senate’s recommendation is expected to be placed before the institute’s BoG soon. The Senate is the highest decision-making body of IIT-Kanpur on academic matters and comprises all faculty members. It is headed by the institute director.
If the BoG accepts the resolution, Sadrela’s PhD will be withdrawn, which could result in him losing his job at IIT-Kanpur. “I am certain that the BoG will make sure justice is served," Karandikar said. According to highly placed sources, there are special powers vested with the Board under Section 13 of IIT Act to overrule Senate’s recommendations, which the director is expected to make use of.
Sadrela had earlier told News 18 that he has faith in the BoG and that they will act without any prejudice. “The charges of plagiarism have been made in an anonymous email – ideally the person whose work has been plagiarized should be complaining – then why a nameless email? Plagiarism charges are trivial, he said.
Defending his thesis he said, “The Ethics Cell has said that there is no need to revoke my thesis – there were similarities in introduction and appendix. The charges were made on equations of motion. But that is something Newton derived, and no one can take it away from Newton.”
He said that he is being falsely accused because he spoke against harassment from four faculty members – found guilty in the inquiry report.
There was a three-member fact finding committee established by IIT Kanpur, an inquiry conducted by a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court on the IIT Board of Governors’ request, and an inquiry conducted by the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes. All inquiries had found that the four professors had committed offences under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. An FIR was registered against the four by the Kanpur police, citing provisions of the Atrocities Act, as well as the IT Act, and Section 500 (defamation) of the IPC.