The JEE Decision: Exclusive interview with Dr. Sarit Kumar Das (Part 1)


How exactly were the decisions regarding the new JEE format taken? What did it really mean when it was said that “IIT Madras supports the new format,” and “IIT Kanpur rejects it”? What was the rationale behind these decisions, and what are the views of the various parties concerning the ‘compromise formula’?

T5E talks to Dr. Sarit Kumar Das, President, Faculty Federation, IIT Madras, to get the whole story, including the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’, from the perspective of the IIT Madras faculty involved in the debates, including the various discussions with the MHRD and the meeting with the Prime Minister.

Part I will cover the decision process itself, told from the viewpoint of Dr. Das (the ‘how’), and Part II (follow this link), will cover the issue itself and the faculty’s rationale behind the decisions.


How the discussions began in the first place :

“Firstly,” begins Dr. Das, “I want people to know that these discussions didn’t start now or just five months ago. It was years ago that there was a report by a committee (The Damodar Acharya committee), by the director of IIT Kharagpur, which came before the IIT council for discussion. Another committee, known as the Ramasami committee was then formed.”

“These reports have been in the public domain, on the web, for quite some time. What I’m saying is that these discussions in the IIT council have been going on for quite some time, but it was only recently that the MHRD has taken an initiative to implement this.” Both the Acharya committee report and Ramasami committee reports are, in fact, in the public domain, and can be found online, here and here.

Earlier this year, the MHRD proposed a formula for incorporating board-exam marks into the JEE ranking system, after consulting with the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI Kolkata). This was a percentile-based formula, which would mean that, instead of the board marks being considered directly, marks proportional to the percentile score would be taken. “So, in that way, you will never be comparing between boards, you will only be comparing with people within the same board, which looks quite fair,” says Dr. Das.

The ISI reports provided are also in the public domain. Those interested in reading it can find it here, and the final report, here, the links being from the website of a professor of IIT Kanpur, Dr. Dheeraj Sanghi. [There was a controversy regarding the MHRD’s interpretation of these, saying that the ISI reports themselves suggested that comparing board marks was not advised, raised by Dr. Sanghi and some other faculty members at IIT Kanpur. Part II of this article will cover this issue.]

The MHRD thus forwarded the formula they supported to the IIT senates. This proposal was then studied by the IITs individually. “In our case,” Dr. Das explains (referring to IIT Madras), “We had a panel discussion and a meeting of the Faculty Association, in which we decided that we agree to the proposal, more or less.” The IIT Madras Senate, was, in fact, supportive of the proposal to take board marks into consideration, but had issues with holding a multiple-choice-format test again. Dr. Das explains, saying, “We believed that the multiple-choice doesn’t really reveal the real intelligence of people, and that coaching institutes will just coach students on how to eliminate wrong answers. What we want is for students to not simply eliminate wrong answers, but to get the right answers.”

It was also decided that IIT Madras would be okay with the screening exam being multiple-choice, but wanted the finals (advanced) JEE to have problem-solving questions.


How the conflict arose :

The above collection of proposals was sent to the MHRD, and then a decision was immediately taken by them. Dr. Das explains that it this was a ‘wrong move’, saying, “It was not really a formal council but a small collection of directors and some important people like the chairman of CBSE, the chairman of the UGC among others. And that had a very negative impact on us [the IITs] because we felt that IIT senates were the highest bodies for academic affairs relating to the IITs, and thus should’ve been consulted.”

With that background, on the 11th of April, there was a meeting of IIT representatives, that is, the Faculty Associations of all the IITs, with Mr. Kapil Sibal, at which Mr. Sibal agreed that it was not right on their part to bypass the authority of the IIT senates, and requested that the IITs discuss and come up with a proposal. Senate meetings were then held in all the IITs. However, the views of the various senates were not convergent. “This is what it means when it is said that ‘IIT Madras supports this’ and ‘IIT Kanpur does not support this’. It is because of the differences in the views of the senates at this point,” explains Dr. Das.

The IIT council was not to make a decision until all of the individual senate decisions were represented. “Now, interestingly,” adds Dr. Das, “the IIT council took a resolution which was almost identical to the IIT Madras senate resolution. Except for the fact that we still wanted the subjective exam for ranking, whereas the council said that both the screening and the final exam would be multiple-choice. On that point, they didn’t agree with us, but on all the other points, for example, the decision that the board marks should be considered only for screening, was exactly the same as ours.”

However, the resolutions from other IITs were different. Four of the IITs said that the revised system should not be implemented in 2013. Some IITs did not want to include the board marks for screening purposes, but just for gating (as a cut-off). Even though there were some differences, the council took a decision. “And after this, they said that the majority of the IITs’ views were bypassed by the council and that the council was under pressure from the MHRD,” Dr. Das explains.

“That is where the controversy started,” he continues, “and IIT Kanpur walked out, saying that they will have their own exam, and invited others to join them. You know the story. They said they had enough legal power not to pay any attention to anything what the council said or what the MHRD said.” Later, IIT Delhi decided to walk out as well, and the situation grew worse.


The meeting with the Prime Minister :

On Friday, 15th of June, members of the All India IIT Faculty Federation, including Dr. S. K. Das, met the Prime Minister to request him to intervene. “We appraised the Prime Minister about the entire scenario. The Prime Minister appreciated this, and said that the most important point is that the IIT autonomy should not be compromised. He said, ‘I agree that some of your points are worth thinking about’, and told us that he’ll talk to the MHRD. He requested us not to take an agitational route but to solve it by negotiation, and we agreed. We said we don’t have any reason to take any harsh steps, and we’ll wait for MHRD to talk to us and we would like to resolve the issue this way.”


At this point of time, several issues were on the table and up for consideration. A nationwide discussion ensued, and important factors like the IITs’ autonomy, the implications for the rural students, the choice between making the change effective from 2013 itself, and, as most of the IITs suggested, having a ‘dry run’ in 2013 and implementing it completely from 2014 onwards. The details will be provided later in this article.


The compromise and the resolution :

After that, because some of the IIT senates rejected the previous proposal (IIT Kanpur and IIT Delhi), there was an effort from both sides to find some common ground, and Dr. Das was involved in facilitating the negotiations. The JAB, the Joint Admission Board, had a meeting on June 23rd, in which they suggested a compromise formula and sent it to the IIT council.The faculty federation then had a meeting on the morning of 27th June at IIT Delhi, in which the formula was approved after a lot of discussion. Then, there was one final meeting of the council (which was publicized), at which the compromise formula was reached. This is how things came to an end.

“Now,” says Dr. Das, “only the formalities are left. We have to get it reported as accepted as a resolution.”

The compromise, as it stands, goes as follows:

  • Instead of the board marks being considered directly, the percentile-based cut-off will be in place, and only the top 20 percentile of each individual board will be allowed admission out of those who clear the JEE.
  • Now, there will be two exams on 2 different dates. The first exam will be called the ‘main’ and this will be taken by everybody. It will be a multiple-choice-question (MCQ) paper. Out of this, only 1.5 lakh people will be selected to write the advanced test, which may or may not have subjective, problem-solving type questions.

“Now,” Dr. Das elaborates, “the main will be conducted by the CBSE with the help of the NITs and IITs, but the final advanced test will be conducted exclusively by IITs. The format etc. will be decided by us. Most probably, it will not be completely MCQ, it will have subjective-type questions also. And, the ranking for selection to the IITs will be based only on this exam. And then, at the time of admission, the eligibility according to the above 80 percentile rule will be checked, just like before, when it was checked according to the 60% marks cut-off.”

This concludes part I of ‘The JEE Decision: Details from Dr. S. K. Das’. In part II, we explain the various issues, according to Dr. Das, that the faculty had in mind when the decisions were made, and how different parties thought.

If you have any comments on this article, or questions to ask Dr. Das, feel free to do so in the comments section below, or on our facebook page. Dr. S. K. Das has informed us that he would be open to any queries from our readers. If we receive a good response, we will publish another article in which Dr. Das will respond to the questions.

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