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House of cards...

In a recent judgment, Justice Ramasubramanian of the Madras High Court made scathing observations on Annamalai University and its deeply entrenched corruption that lasted for 84 years.

In 2013, the Tamil Nadu Government took full control of the University on grounds of mismanagement and financial irregularities by passing The Annamalai University Act 2013 to protect the interest of students and staff.  However, it appears that it will be long before order returns to this historical citadel of learning, once considered as the Nalanda of the South.

Annamalai University is one of Asia’s largest residential universities located in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu.  It was started in 1928 by Annamalai Chettiar, an educational visionary who later handed over the University with its attached land and properties to the Madras Presidency.  Given the generosity of his contribution and his desire to work for the university, the Presidency passed an Act granting him and his heirs special privileges, rights and unprecedented powers to govern the University.  This was unique because no government funded university has ever had its control vested to a private individual that too in a hereditary fashion.


Massive corruption and mismanagement

However, the university soon fell into a deep quagmire of corruption, mismanagement and massive financial irregularities. The recent judgment of the Madras High Court notes that “money pumped in by the government into Annamalai University was almost equivalent to the total amount of money invested in 12 universities in the State” and it further observe that “all contracts awarded by the university in the past several decades went in favour of companies floated by the founder’s family.”  In other words, as per the court records, the heirs of Rajah Annamalai Chettiar who governed the University had converted the university into an extension of their own corporate fiefdom by abusing their privilege and misappropriation of funds granted by the University Grants Commission and the state government.  

Justice Ramasubramanian noted “the mind- boggling statistics given by the government of Tamil Nadu shows that what was originally conceived by the founder to be a philanthropic venture, appears to have ultimately turned out to be a profitable commercial venture.  The government funds, whose monetary value as on date would work out to Rs 2300 crore, had gone into the university.”  

Further the noting on government records indicate various anomalies like excess staffing, transfer of university funds and investment of funds for other purposes and ignoring statutory obligations, etc.


An indictment of a callous state

Given the financial state of the University, many rumours of mass retrenchment were under circulation.  These led to various protests in the university campus by both the staff and the students alike.  In a swift move, the Tamil Nadu government passed the Annamalai University Act 2013 and took over the affairs of the university citing financial irregularities, mismanagement and to protect the interest of the students and the staff and their livelihood.

If one observes deeply, the Annamalai Story is also an indictment of a callous state. It is difficult to imagine how the heirs could perpetrate financial irregularities to a tune of Rs 2300 crore without the active or passive aid of those in power.  How is it that the government would keep pumping in funds into the university year after year and decade after decade to a tune of Rs 2300 crore without auditing these funds for its utilisation by the university?  How is it that the mismanagement and financial irregularities could go on unabated for 84 years with no information to the exchequer? Would the state have moved if there were no protests by the staff? Or would it be business as usual?

All in all, the facts of the Annamalai University present a sordid and disturbing picture of collusive corruption with patronage from high places.  A university is supposed to be a temple of learning but if it is not protected or nurtured from termites from within and outside, it will collapse like a house of cards.

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