An OST SPECIAL REPORT
Ego battles, official high-handedness and gross apathy have conspired to take Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies (NCDS), the premier research institute in the state set up in 1987, steadily downhill. The go battle between the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Prof PK Nayak and the Director Prof RK Panda have seriously affected the administration of the institute while non-fulfilment of vacancies and lack of career advancement have brought all research activities to a virtual standstill.
According to insiders, Prof PK Nayak, a former head of the Anthropology department of Utkal University who was appointed Chairman of the Board of Governors for a three-year term on Feb 4, 2012, has been claiming to act both as the de jure and de facto head of the Centre though the memorandum of association makes it a purely honorary post, equivalent to the position of all other members of the Centre’s Board of Governors, and clearly designates the Director as the executive head.
Due to Prof Nayak’s alleged high-handedness, the regular Director of the Centre is unable to take any independent administrative decision on any official matter on his own without obtaining file approval from him in the capacity as Chairman of the Centre’s Board of Governors, say insiders.
The running battle between Prof Nayak and Prof Panda has vitiated the academic and research environment of the Centre.
According to the memorandum of association and byelaws of the Centre, the Board meeting is to be held at least twice during a year to look into the direction of research and administrative affairs of the institute. The byelaws clearly state that the Director, as member Secretary of the Centre’s Board of Governors, has to convene the meeting with the approval of the Chairman after fixing a date with 21 days’ prior notice to all members.
But thanks to the ‘ego clash’ between the Chairman and the Director, NCDS, the Board of Governors meeting has not been held since November 2012.
Prof Nayak is found to be claiming perks and financial benefits equivalent to the status of a vice chancellor, although previous Chairmen of the Centre’s Board of Governors were just given a sum of Rs.1000 as transport allowance and a free official phone and an attendant during their work tenure. He has been provided with a staff car out of the Centre’s two vehicles with the approval of the State Government for his exclusive official use. As a result, the Centre’s routine administrative and research work is affected and the Centre is found to be hiring vehicles off and on for the official use of other staff members.
It is, however, not as if the woes of this premier institute, founded by the Government of India and Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), started only with Prof Nayak. The rot actually started in 2003 with the appointment of Prof LK Mohapatra, an eminent anthropologist, as the Chairman of the Board of Governors in 2003, say insiders.
During Prof Mohapatra’s tenure, “ the academic environment of the Centre started deteriorating because of his highhandedness and interference in the day to day administration of the Centre and he did not allow the officiating Director, late Prof. SP Padhi, to perform his duty smoothly”, said a senior scholar associated with NCDS.
The Centre’s research and administrative environment deteriorated to such an extent during Prof Mohapatra’s tenure that senior academicians of the institute revolted against his highhanded behaviour forcing him to resign before the completion of his tenure.
After the resignation of Prof. Mahapatra, as Chairman, the Board ceased to exist and the Development Commissioner was appointed acting Chairman of the Centre for a brief spell.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
Things took a turn for the worse with the appointment of RK Mishra, an unknown academician with little knowledge of social science research as Chairman, Board of Governors. He even did not have a PhD degree. Mr. Mishra took advantage of a thinning faculty size because of retirement of senior faculty members from the Centre’s service and virtually functioned as de facto chief executive of NCDS as Prof. SP Padhi was a very meek and gentle person with little interest in the administration.
After Prof Padhi’s sudden death on March 02, 2010, the Centre’s research environment deteriorated from bad to worse state. The Centre did not have a regular Director since December 2003 and ceased to have any Professor position. Although all other faculty members were eligible for promotion under the career advancement scheme of University Grants Commission, the Chairman, Mr Mishra and the officiating Director, Aniruddha Rout did not take any step for promotion of the Centre’s faculty as per UGC guidelines.
BEYOND REDEMPTION ?
Things looked up briefly for the Centre with the appointment of Prof RK Panda, former Professor of Economics, Utkal University, as the regular Director of the Centre by a duly constituted Selection Committee in November 2011. But the appointment of Prof PK Nayak as the Chairman the same year nipped any possibility of a revival of academic and research activities at NCDS.
NCDS has done some pioneering work in development related policy research in social sciences and provided valuable feedback to the state government for formulation of plans and policies to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development in the state. Among the seminal works of research produced by the institute are Odisha Development Report, 2002 and Odisha Human Development Report, 2004.
If the academic atmosphere in the Centre is restored, it can still play an extremely useful role in undertaking rigorous people-based research on different aspects of the state’s economy, society and polity. It can help the State in designing a consensual development model for inclusive development of excluded and marginalized people to wipe out the stigma of poverty and structural backwardness.
But all this is dependent on the revival of the Centre with proper restructuring of the Centre’s Board of Governors and filling up of all vacant faculty positions as well as promotion of all deserving faculty members and staffs. It is necessary to reconstitute the Centre’s Board of Governors in the light of procedures and practices adopted by other state level research institutes of the ICSSR.