RTI activists claim ‘Admission Scam’ at National School of Drama

The National School of Drama (NSD) is an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. It is regarded as a centre of excellence in the field of arts and culture. Bollywood greats like Anupam Kher, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah are among the alumni from the NSD, which has also trained current crop of actors like Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Current superstar Shah Rukh Khan also owes a bit of his training as an actor to NSD, as he used to visit the campus and work with actors there. His father ran a canteen on the campus, which gave him this opportunity. He had said that the experience helped him hone his skills.

Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah during their NSD days

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NSD was registered as an autonomous institute in 1975, while it was given a deemed university status in 2005. However, in 2011, the deemed university status was revoked following a request by the NSD itself. The institute had argued that a deemed university status could undermine the flexibility and freedom a creative institute should enjoy, for it might have to follow too many government rules and regulations.

While it indeed is fine for a creative institute to seek freedom and flexibility in its operations, they should be limited to areas like training, education, and performance. But it appears that the NSD has taken this flexibility and freedom even to its admission process, where it is being accused of not adhering to the rules regarding excluding the ‘creamy layer’ form the seats reserved for the OBC (Other Backward Classes) candidates.

The issue came to light when some RTI activists and a group called ‘India Against Injustice’ were tipped off by a student of NSD in January last year. These set of activists then decided to dig deeper into the case and they discovered that the institute was way too lax in following the admission guidelines. The activists believe that only active collusion or malafide intentions can explain the laxity and incompetence they discovered through their investigations.

Rajesh Tandon, the convenor of India Against Injustice shared with OpIndia.com the documents related to this admission irregularity that he could retrieve with active support from RTI activists Nipun Arora and Shivkrit Rai, both of whom are also 3rd year law students.

Initial tip off that ‘India Against Injustice’ received was regarding the case of a particular 2nd year student who is the daughter of a high-ranking army officer. The girl was given admission under the OBC quota in the year 2015, even though her father, who holds a rank of Major General, surely was earning enough to qualify for the ‘creamy layer’ category.

“We did not blindly believe the tip-off and we carried out our own investigations for months. We even talked to administration members, faculty, graduates and students of NSD trying to extract information, after which we were reasonably convinced that this was a clear case where someone not eligible for reservation benefits was provided the benefits meant for the weakest among the weaker sections,” Rajesh Tandon told OpIndia.com about how this admission malpractice was unearthed.

After he was convinced that the admission to the girl was in violation of the ‘creamy layer’ rule, Rajesh wrote a letter to the NSD Director on 21st June 2016, with all the details. He suspected that either the girl had provided wrong information or the NSD authorities were complicit in violating the rules. However, he didn’t even receive any acknowledgment, let alone any promise of looking into the complaint.

“Our group has been working on similar cases with other top institutes and I can tell you that some NSD officials acted very arrogantly and irresponsibly. NSD runs on taxpayers’ money and 50% of the total no. of students studying at NSD are from reserved category. I expected better conduct and accountability,” Rajesh shared with us his experience.

India Against Injustice complained to the Ministry of Culture a month later on 21st July 2016 seeking high level inquiry into this malpractice. Fortunately, the Ministry took cognizance of the matter and issued a letter on 10th August 2016 to the Registrar of NSD seeking comments from the institutes on priority.

Rajesh Tandon claims that NSD did not provide much information or update over the case despite the Ministry of Culture letter. His attempts to seek responses or information were stonewalled most of the times in the following months. This is when he was joined by RTI activists Nipun Arora and Shivkrit Rai, who decided to use the RTI act to elicit information.

“We filed four RTI inquiries in December 2016 seeking information about not only this particular case of the army officer’s daughter, but about all reserved category students. However, even our RTI queries were responded with ‘information is being collected and will be furnished shortly’ kind of messages, that too after the mandatory 30 days period – basically they were not providing information promptly for some reason,” Nipun told OpIndia.com

The National School of Drama, Delhi.

In February this year, Nipun complained to the NSD about not receiving proper responses to his RTI queries, and on 28th March he complained to the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) complaining about the same.

Finally, they started receiving some pieces of information, which they claim hint at massive malpractices being followed during admissions to the National School of Drama.

The activists say that they came to know that NSD had formed a committee to look into their complaints after the Ministry of Culture wrote to them in August last year, however, this committee met for the first time only in February this year i.e. after RTI applications were filed, which perhaps sent a message to the institute that the activists were not to ready to give up on the matter so easily.

Early this month, through the RTI replies, they came to know of the following details:

  • The particular girl, whose case triggered the investigations, had applied for admission twice earlier. First in General category, and second time in OBC category. She was granted admission finally in 2015 under OBC category.
  • The girl’s caste certificate is not issued by any office of the SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) or of the Tehsil or Revenue Department, whose certificates are considered standard and valid. Activists say that this means that this particular student has neither submitted an OBC certificate nor a non-creamy layer declaration.
  • The girl was issued a notice on 6th April this year asking her to declare non-creamy layer status within two days, to which she replied that she was not aware about this creamy layer ‘segregation’ at the time of admission and hence her caste certificate doesn’t mention so. She requested the institute to consider her matter in wake of this observation.
  • Apart from this girl, at least four other students – three of whom were granted admission in 2014 and another in 2015 – who were offered admission under the OBC quota had not submitted any certificates that prove that they don’t belong to the creamy layer.
  • Activists claim that when they went through the caste certificates (retrieved through RTI) of those granted admission, they discovered that there were also cases where non-creamy layer declarations were old or inadequate i.e. there were more cases where proper documentation regarding the ‘creamy layer’ rule was not followed.

RTI reply from the NSD listing students who had still not provided non-creamy layer information.

These findings clearly show that the NSD authorities have been completely careless and negligent in examining the documents and information furnished by the students. Whether this was result of incompetence or whether this hints at a scam, where these authorities were deliberately allowing admission to students who otherwise don’t qualify, is something that is subject of further investigation.

But Rajesh Tandon, Nipun Arora and Shivkrit Rai believe that this is not just a case of carelessness or lackadaisical attitude. Their suspicion finds roots in the fact that their attempts to get information was stonewalled for months at various stages.

“At least the case of that particular girl appears an open and shut case,” Rajesh said, “For some reason she is not willing to submit a declaration even after being asked so. She was applying for the third time so it is hard to believe that she was not aware about this condition as she claims. She can furnish ITR (income tax returns) copies of her father, but she is deflecting the issue to the caste certificate, even which is also not valid in our opinion. Now NSD says they will talk to the authorities who issued the caste certificate. This is bizarre. She is being given a long rope by the institute, which appears odd.”

“Government (DOPT guidelines) rules clearly state that anyone found to be from creamy layer of OBC in government offices or institutions should be immediately expelled or discharged from the services. She clearly fails the income test of creamy layer provision,” he added.

“Furthermore, the committee that is investigating the whole case has no independent members from the arts or theatre community. How can we trust any impartial or transparent investigation?” he further asked.

RTI reply from the NSD informing about the committee that is looking into the complaints.

“We are sure that irregularities of such level can’t happen without the involvement of an insider. That’s why it is a scam. Rich and people with influence from OBC backgrounds are snatching away the rights of the poor among the poorest. It is a crime!” Rajesh asserted.

Nipun too said that the attitude of NSD officials makes them suspect a foul play.

“I had asked them for an update on Monday itself,” Nipun told us, “But they are still giving standard replies that the issue is being investigated. They say that they have written to the authorities who have issued caste certificates. Isn’t it an attempt to further delay the case? An SDM or a Tehsildar will take his own sweet time. And they are not supposed to know the current income level of parents of the students. Remember, there are some students from the 2014 batch who will be graduating in some time and they have not yet submitted the required documents.”

OpIndia.com too talked to the Mr. OP Sagar, the Deputy Registrar of the NSD on Thursday, and he confirmed that there were some cases of students who had not submitted the required information about the ‘creamy layer’ status and the ‘matter was being investigated’. He confirmed that no final decision had been taken in this case by the institute.

The activists now demand that the entire period from 2006 to 2016 should be investigated and documents of those who were provided admission under the reserved quota should be checked. They believe that the institute is denying admission to rightful candidates by allowing admissions based on incomplete or faulty certificates. And there could be a larger story behind these irregularities.

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