The Madras High Court has set aside appointment of Prof M S Ananth as IIT Madras director. Ananth got a second term after he had completed the first term of five years in December 2006. The appointment was challenged by an alumnus. A single judge bench had dismissed the petitition but the alumnus pursued the matter with a division bench of the HC which then asked a judge to hear the matter.
I have scanned several newspaper reports. I must confess I am still not entirely clear about the judgement. From what I could make out, the HC believes that due process was not followed. First, the appointment was made, not by the IIT Council, but by a search committee appointed by the MHRD. It appears the Council alone has the right to make such appointments. Secondly, the post was not advertised- the HC appears to have said that the requirement of equality of opportunity cannot be met unless this is done. The HC has also noted that the contract between IIT M and Prof Ananth for a second term was signed even before formal approval from the President had been obtained.
I understand the judgement will have implications for some other IITs where too a similar process for appointment of director was followed. One of the reports on the judgement quotes the judgement as saying that since the appointment was for a fixed tenure, the question of an extension of tenure or re-appointment did not arise. If that is so, it would have implications for institutions other than IITs as well.
One thing we must applaud is the insistence of the court on the post being advertised widely. (The court went on to point out that there are distinguished Indian academics scattered across the globe and every attempt must be made to tap this pool of talent). There was a huge uproar in the IIM community when the director's post was advertised in 2007. They saw it as a sinister machination to bring in an "outsider" (as though the appointment of an outsider is a crime). The uproar died down when it was pointed out that a newspaper advertisement was a technical requirement for appointments made by the Appointments Committee of the cabinet.
I am also of the view that fixed-term appointments for institutions such as the IITs and IIMs are a good thing. There is no dearth of talent, so I can't see why one person should continue for more than one term. Two, limiting the term makes for greater accountability- the incumbent knows that his decisions will be reviewed when he steps down after five years. This sort of built-in check on the office of director is required because market-based mechanisms that operate in the US are largely absent in India.