Benefit clauses in Nalanda varsity bill raises doubts

The Nalanda University (Amendment) Bill, 2013, came under intense scrutiny of a Parliamentary committee on Tuesday, which rejected the strange provision of giving “retrospective” privileges and immunities from taxation to staff of the academic institution, which has not even become functional.

The Standing Committee on External Affairs, headed by BJP leader Ananth Kumar, held its second meeting on Tuesday to discuss the bill, brought before the previous session of Parliament. 

Some BJP MPs had raised objection to the provision giving retrospective immunity from income tax and customs to non-Indian staff, which they can avail from 2010, said committee sources. This, despite the fact that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Nalanda was signed with seven countries in Brunei on October 10. 

The committee is of the view that the provision should be applicable prospectively, added panel sources.

During the East Asia summit held on October 10, the MoU was signed by Singapore, Australia, Cambodia, Brunei, New Zealand, Lao PDR and Myanmar, but strangely, important nations like China, Japan and Thailand did not sign the agreement. 

The headquarters agreement signed between the Government of India and the University on July 20, 2013, lays the privileges and immunities sourced from the United Nations (Privileges and Immunities) Act, 1947. 

It says the academic staff not belonging to the host country shall be granted exemption from taxation in respect of their salaries, honoraria, allowances and other emoluments, and can import free-of-custom-duties items for personal use.

BJP sources said the move to extend privileges and benefits to dependants and family members of the vice-chancellor and the academic staff is also contentious. 

Committee members have raised several questions, including on the need to expand the governing board in the amended bill from 14 to 18 members and why the university is under the external affairs ministry and not governed by the human resource development ministry.

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