NIMHANS faculty objects as director gets extension till 2010 after his term ended. While Union Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss waged a quite public campaign to get Dr P Venugopal off the post of AIIMS Director, restricting the tenure for the post as well as fixing a retirement age, the opposite principle seems to be at work at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore.

Once known as the All India Institute of Mental Health, NIMHANS has rules similar to the new AIIMS law, fixing the director’s tenure at a maximum of five years and the retirement age at 65. However, incumbent director Dr D Nagaraja, 59, whose five-year term ended on November 5, has received a controversial extension till January 2010.

The Health Minister is the president and chancellor of the NIMHANS Society, the governing body of the institute. Also, under NIMHANS rules, last revised on June 12, 2000, a director can get a maximum extension of only six months beyond his period of tenure, and this extension applies only if a search committee for the new director is set up during the period of the incumbent director.

NIMHANS faculty members have objected to the extension granted to Dr Nagaraja, pointing out that there were no announcements about the rules of the NIMHANS Society having been modified. One senior professor, Taranath Shetty, has even filed a public interest case in the Karnataka High Court, questioning the extension.

The NIMHANS controversy has been unspooling alongside the AIIMS battle for the past month, ever since Dr Nagaraja’s term ended. After 10 days of remaining without a director, on November 16, the registrar of the deemed university issued a circular stating that, based on a November 8 letter from the Ministry of Health and the approval of the Appointments Committee of Cabinet, “the extension of tenure of Prof D Nagaraja as director NIMHANS from 7.11.2007 to 31.01.2010 has been communicated”.

The NIMHANS administration also provided an undated, unlabelled note stating for the first time that “the director shall hold office for a term of five years and the Central Government at its discretion can extend the term”.

However, a NIMHANS faculty member points out that the clause that the Central Government can extend the term does not exist in the current rules of the Society and efforts to find out whether the rules had been modified have proved futile.

“If there has been a change in the Society rules, when did this happen, has it passed muster with the academic council and the board of management, and why has it not been notified as yet?” asks a senior professor and former dean of the institute.

Incidentally, on June 30 this year, Dr Nagaraja passed an order that several documents relating to NIMHANS were out of bounds under the RTI Act — specifically mentioning meetings of the Society, and the board and committees on finance and buildings.

When Dr Nagaraja’s tenure ended on November 5, the office of the registrar issued a notice saying the June 30 order on non-disclosure would be superseded by non-disclosure clauses under Sections 8 and 11 of the RTI Act. “We really don’t know how he managed to get the extension. We heard it is under the pretext of NIMHANS soon getting recognition as an institute of national importance by an Act of Parliament,” an additional professor said.

Incidentally, that is the key difference between AIIMS and NIMHANS — that NIMHANS is a Society, while AIIMS is an institute of national importance under a Parliament Act.

Dr Nagaraja himself says no comparisons can be drawn with the AIIMS issue “since my superannuation is a few years away”. :: Distance between NIMHANS and AIIMS: ask the Health Minister