Just as needless bureaucratic controls have
retarded the growth of Indian industry, so also our educational sector
continues to lag far behind the rest of the world because the
License-Quota Raj is still alive and kicking in this sector.
One of the key electoral promises of Narendra
Modi was that in this “Century of Knowledge”, his government would create
conditions for India to not only catch up with the rest of the world in the
field of education but actually emerge as a global leader. But going by
recent events, this promise is far from being honored.
The following account of the founding of the
Aravali Institute of Management in Jodhpur District of Rajasthan
by IIM Ahmadabad and IIT Delhi alumnus Varun Arya and his struggle to build a
high quality institution in a backward desert rural region of Rajasthan reveals
the travails of the education sector
The constant battle waged by Varun Arya to
save his institution and how today it is facing a grim battle for survival
provides a typical case study of what it takes to set up educational institutions in
India and how the dead hand of politicians and bureaucrats continue to
throttle the endeavours of genuine educationists.
This account also explains why political
racketeers who set up dubious institutions charging high capitation fee have
come to dominate the education sector and how the endless harassment due to the
deadly powers that politicians and bureaucrats excercise over educational
sector has encouraged extortion rackets to flourish in this key domain.
While Narendra Modi’s government seems
committed to removing harmless sarkari controls over industry and most other
sectors of our economy, it has allowed the HRD Minister Smriti Irani to run
riot over educational institutions. The Aravali Institute of Management is one
of the latest victims of her Tuglaqi Farmaans. But Varun Arya is a determined
fighter as is evident from the account of how he went about establishing the
Aravali Institute of Management without succumbing to bribes and extortion. We
sincerely hope unlike the Delhi University Vice Chancellor, Varun Arya will not
capitulate and instead come out a winner.
Institute of Management : The Beginning
Right from the word go, Varun Arya was clear that education,
by definition, has to be based on ethics. He was also clear that Aravali would be in
education of business and not in the business of education. Therefore, he had
decided that ethics, merit, equality, integrity, quality and societal service
would be the core values of Aravali. These would not be compromised under any
circumstances irrespective of the consequences. He told himself that he was
going to do something good for the nation and it had to be necessarily done in
the right way only.
His benchmark, to begin with, was his alma-mater IIM
Ahmedabad. With all the respect for his alma-mater, he wanted Aravali to shape
up better than IIMA. Having been a student at IIMA, later as Secretary of
IIMA Alumni Association and because of his regular interactions with IIMA
alumni & faculty for around two decades, he was aware of the deficiencies
and pitfalls of IIMA. He decided to ensure that in Aravali all these limitations at IIMA would be bridged to the extent possible.
To ensure that quality and credibility were accorded high
priority, he got some of the most distinguished persons from various walks of
life like Maharaja Gaj Singh of Marwar-Jodhpur, Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singh of
Jaipur, Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar of Udaipur, Mr. M. Narasimham (former RBI
Governor), Mr. P. Chidambaram, Mrs. Vasundhara Raje, Dr. I. G. Patel (Chairman,
Board of Governors, IIMA), Prof. Samuel Paul (former Director, IIMA), Mr. K.
Natwar Singh, Dr. Abid Hussain, Dr. Ram S. Tarneja, Mr. Subodh Bhargava, Dr. L.
M. Singhvi, Mr. A. H. Tobaccowala (Chairman, Voltas), Mr. Viren J. Shah
(Chairman, Mukand Limited) Mr. Gopi K. Arora, Dr. Y. K. Alagh, Swami Agnivesh, Prof.
V. S. Vyas (former Director, IIMA), Prof. N. C. Nigam (former Director, IIT
Delhi), and Mr. Rajendra Singh (Chairman, NTPC) to be on the Board of Governors
of Aravali. He also got many subject experts from all over India and abroad and
several professors of IIM Ahmedabad to be on the Advisory Council of Aravali.
Aravali was inaugurated in the year 2000 in a unique
manner by a two days Launch Convention on “Building Blocks to Manage
Successfully in the Future”, which was inaugurated by Dr. L. M. Singhvi with
Maharaja Gaj Singh of Marwar-Jodhpur presiding over it, Mr. N. Vittal (Central
Vigilance Commissioner of India) delivering the keynote address and a dozen heads
of various organizations from all over India as other speakers.
When Aravali was started, Varun
dreamt big and said that eminent persons from all over India and abroad,
faculty of IIMs & IITs and other experts would visit it but the people of
Jodhpur did not believe him at that stage saying that such persons never came to Jodhpur. He also
said that Aravali would have a 100 acre campus which also people of Jodhpur especially considering that he had just Rs. 5 lakhs, to start with.
He thought of starting with the MBA programme with affiliation from the Jai Narain Vyas University (earlier
University of Jodhpur). He applied for the affiliation and got it. However, he
came to know that as an integral part of affiliation Aravali had to adopt the
courses & curricula of the said university. He found that the said courses
& curricula were outdated and irrelevant from the perspective of
requirement of the corporate world. He, therefore, decided not to go for MBA
degree programme but instead to go for Post Graduate Diploma Programme on the
pattern of IIMs with courses & curricula taken from IIM Ahmedabad, with
regular updation based on the inputs from the corporate world.
Aravali was the first private
management institute of Jodhpur and the first one in Rajasthan to offer a
Diploma programme, which people here did not quite understand. Therefore,
Aravali started in a set of rented buildings with just five students which
later became seven students in the first year. However, for these seven
students, Aravali had painstakingly created proper classrooms with modern
educational aids of LCD projector, library, computer centre, conference room,
cafeteria, separate hostels for boys & girls, etc. When Dr. I. G. Patel
(the then Chairman, Board of Governors of IIM Ahmedabad) visited Aravali in the
very first year, he remarked that Aravali had better facilities and
infrastructure as compared to some of the new IIMs.
Aravali also became the
first non-IIM institute to get affiliation to Common Admission Test (CAT) right
in the first year itself. While conveying to Aravali CAT affiliation approval, Prof. Sudas Roy of IIM Calcutta and
Chairman - CAT had written on 24th July 2001 :
"IIM Ahmedabad faculty already has a long-term
interaction and familiarity with your Institute including your resources and
facilities. Given the fact that your Institute is already doing well and is
well established, use of CAT facility has been recommended. I welcome you as a
new member and hope to have a fruitful association with your Institute."
Despite Aravali having just seven students in the first
year, Varun arranged some of the leading management experts from all over India
and abroad including many IITs & IIMs alumni and faculty members to visit
Jodhpur and deliver guest lectures to the students. He and his team worked
really very hard, students got the best education, developed the required
competencies and got good placements. In view of just seven students in the first
batch, Aravali had hardly any revenue and in the process, he suffered a loss of
around Rs. 22 lakhs in the first year, enough to bring him on the streets.
However, he persevered and managed to hold on. In the second year, the student
strength became 44 and thereafter progressively increasing every year becoming
a high of around 240 during the year 2008-09.
Aravali Campus: Transforming Arid Land to Oasis
For building the campus of Aravali, the Government of
Rajasthan had assured that the government land would be provided at the reserve
price meant for educational institutions. However, when Aravali did not get the
government land for five years despite two different political parties being in power, in
view of its refusal to compromise, Varun decided to go for private land.
|In non-rainy days, there was
no underground water
Highly uneven patches of land
|Rains fell as water drops but on
landing these became acidic
|Salt pan with deteriorated oil around
When he advertised for the land with “100% payment by
cheque” prominently written in the advertisement, he got two dozen proposals.
23 of them backed out when they came to know that Varun really meant 100%
payment by cheque. Only one family group remained since they had been trying to
sell their land for decades but there were no buyers in view of it being
extremely saline barren wasteland on which nothing could grow, nothing could be
constructed and there was no water in/around the land. Varun purchased this
94.4 acres land at Village Kaparda, Tehsil Bilara, District Jodhpur in
Rajasthan since he had no other choice.
| Salt...salt everywhere
|Exploring what to do to solve the
During the last nine years, this land has
been painstakingly transformed under his leadership and it now has developed 15 lakes
containing around 6 crore litres of water capacity with migratory birds visiting these lakes in large numbers. They have also constructed various water harvesting structures including two bridges, over 6000 trees
grown upto 20 feet, 60 solar lights, three huge lawns of around 2.5 acres each,
six smaller lawns, a natural meditation centre with capacity for 2000 persons
on a natural mound surrounded by 1500 plants, and vegetables grown organically.
|Migratory birds in one of the
15 lakes on the campus
|Migratory birds on one of the three
spacious lawns (each 2.5 acres)
on the campus
Library with over 400 journals, Magazines & periodicals subscribed/received
and around 10,000 books, with capacity to seat 100 persons
|Computer Centre with 90 IBM/
| Director's office
|Meeting of a visiting foreign dignitary
with Sarpanchs of around 40 villages
around our campus
| Accounts Department
|Guest Rooms for the visiting faculty
|Main water harvesting structure on
|Swiss tents perched for an event
on the campus alongside one
of the lakes
| Sports ground on the campus
|Students enjoying the beautiful
Sunset longside one of the lakes
on the campus
|Villagers attending an event in the
natural amphi-theatre at our campus
with capacity to seat around 2,000
|Yog Shivir by Swami Ramdev,
attended by around 10,000 persons
from the villages around our campus
Battling the Corrupt Accreditation System of HRD through AICTE
But for all this, Varun has had to wage intense battles at every stage. While all other battes, including transforming saline barren land of Rajasthan desert into an oasis of greenery -- were relatively easy, but dealing with government appointed accreditiation body called the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) and the HRD ministry has been a never ending nightmare. This is evident from a brief history of the organization a given below:
10 Oct 1999
Aravali made a written proposal to AICTE Chairman for establishment of Aravali
Institute of Management to be started from August 2000 at Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
There was no response.
10 Nov 2000 Aravali again submitted the proposal to AICTE for approval. A
bribe of Rs. 5 lakhs was demanded by AICTE through its mediator, which Varun
refused to give. After this, AICTE declined to give Aravali the approval saying
that the Institute was operating from rented premises and not own premises.
This was done by AICTE despite the fact that it had given approvals to hundreds
of institutions all over India which were also not operating from own premises.
In Delhi/NCR alone, there were several institutions like Amity Business School,
Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of
Management, Birla Institute of Management Technology, Sri Sringeri Sharada
Institute of Management, etc. which were not operating from their own premises
but were still given approval by AICTE.
01 Nov 2004 After Varun’s continuing struggle to get the AICTE approval on
merit alone, a committee under the Chairmanship of Prof. P. V. Indiresan,
former Director of IIT Madras with Prof. R. C. Malhotra (former Director, IIT
Kanpur), Prof. M. P. Kapoor (Chairman, AICTE’s North Western Regional
Committee), Mr. Chava Badri Nath Babu (Advocate, Supreme Court of India) and
Dr. K. Subramanian (Advisor, AICTE) as members called Varun and heard his
complaint against corruption in AICTE. Varun was assured approval in view of
Aravali’s merit but it did not happen.
01 Jul 2009 AICTE approval vide F. No. 09/10/Raj/PGDM/005 dated 30 June 2009
was received by Aravali with effect from the admissions of the year 2007-08 and
valid till the admissions of year 2009-10. The Hearing Committee chaired by
Padma Shri Prof. Pritam Singh (Former Director, IIM Lucknow; Former Director,
MDI Gurgaon & Former Dean, IIM Bangalore) with Prof. R. S. Nigam (Formerly
Director, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi & Professor of International
Management, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, USA) and Prof. Dilip K.
Bandyopadhyay (Vice Chancellor, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha
University, Delhi & Formerly Director, Indian Institute of Forest
Management, Bhopal) as the members, while recommending immediate approval, had
said that Aravali was a role model institution for the country.
Inspection Team chaired by Prof. S. C. Vaidya (Dean, University Business
School, Punjab University, Chandigarh) with Prof. R. Ravi Kumar (IIM
Bangalore), Prof. S. P. Narang (Formerly Secretary, Institute of Company
Secretaries of India, New Delhi) and Dr. Manish Bhalla (Asstt. Director, AICTE,
New Delhi) as the members, visited Aravali, saw the facilities and
infrastructure including the campus site and interacted with Aravali faculty
22 Jan 2010 AICTE approval renewal for the year 2010-11 received vide letter
No. NWRO/4642 dated 22 January 2010.
15 Oct 2010 Aravali sent its application dated 15 October 2010 to AICTE for
the approval renewal for the year 2011-12. This application was returned back
to Aravali by AICTE North-Western Regional Office at Chandigarh, without
assigning any reason. However, Varun was told orally that Aravali needed to
meet the condition of operating from its own campus to get the approval
16 Oct 2010 Aravali received AICTE Head Office letter vide File No.
2009-10/RAJ/PGDM/04 dated 12 October 2010 quoting a CBI Jodhpur report asking
for action against Aravali, for not having shifted to its own campus,
amongst other things. CBI Jodhpur had done this against Aravali since Varun had
refused admission to someone recommended by an officer of CBI Jodhpur as the
admissions had closed.
03 Nov 2010 Acting on Aravali’s writ petition No. 10316/2010, Rajasthan High
Court vide its order dated 03 November 2010 restrained AICTE from proceeding
against Aravali on above said AICTE notice on CBI Jodhpur report.
24 Mar 2011 Once Aravali got the above order of Rajasthan High Court, Varun
wrote to the AICTE Chairman enclosing the photocopy of the order and requesting
for renewal of the approval. There was no response, despite
many reminders. However, Varun was orally told that the approval would not be
renewed since Aravali had not yet shifted to its own campus. This was done
despite the Rajasthan High Court order restraining AICTE from proceeding
against Aravali on the said aspect also. The insistence on shifting to
own campus was absurd because AICTE knew that the new campus was under
construction. The rented building was only an interin arrangement.
01 Oct 2012 On Aravali’s second appeal filed with the Central Information
Commission, New Delhi and heard by Mr. Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information
Commissioner of India, the Superintendent of Police of CBI said that nothing
was found against Aravali and therefore, the enquiry had been closed.
06 July 2013 After
completion of construction of facilities and infrastructure on Aravali campus
and having started operating from there, as required by AICTE, Varun sent
another application to AICTE Chairman for approval renewal. There was no
response. He also requested for a meeting but there was no response.
12 July 2013 Since AICTE did not respond and there was urgency in view of the
beginning of the new academic session from July/August 2013, Varun requested
for an urgent meeting with Ms. Amita Sharma, Additional Secretary (Technical
Education), Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India,
who promptly replied giving him an appointment. During the meeting Ms. Amita
Sharma said that Aravali was a meritorious case and it should get the approval
renewal. For this, she fixed Varun’s meeting with AICTE Chairman on 16 July
16 July 2013 Varun met Prof. S. S. Mantha, AICTE Chairman. Prof. Mantha said
that he had already sent a report to Ministry of Human Resource Development
(MHRD), Govt. of India that Aravali had been closed down and therefore, it
would be a case of fresh approval and not approval renewal. When Varun told him
that he had never asked for closure and had not carried out the requisite
process for closure, Prof. Mantha showed Varun the document but it was of some
other Institute from Udaipur. Taken aback by this, Prof. Mantha said that he
would still not give Varun the approval renewal and would do so only if
instructed by MHRD.
22 Aug 2013 The above was informed to MHRD. The Ministry instructed AICTE to carry out the approval renewal process.
On this, AICTE called Varun for a meeting with an AICTE Committee, which
shockingly again raised the issue of the CBI enquiry. Varun told and showed the
committee the orders of Rajasthan High Court and Central Information
Commission, while saying that their raising this issue was contempt of court.
Varun also requested the Committee to see the various documents in support of
Aravali’s merit. However, the Committee continued to harp on the CBI report and
was not interested in seeing any documents or listening to anything in defence
of Aravali, no matter how strong the merit of the case. However, on Varun’s
repeated requests, the Committee agreed to send a team to Jodhpur latest within
a week to inspect the facilities and infrastructure at Aravali so that the
approval renewal could be given. However, this promise was not honoured.
05 Sep 2013 In view of the urgency to start the new academic session, Varun
informed the above to the MHRD. Consequently Varun had a combined meeting with
Mr. Ashok Thakur, Secretary (Higher Education), Ministry of Human Resource
Development, and Prof. S. S. Mantha, AICTE Chairman. The AICTE Chairman again
raised the issue of the CBI enquiry, despite Varun showing him the orders of
the Rajasthan High Court and Central Information Commission. Varun also
requested him to see the various documents in support of Aravali’s merit but
Prof. Mantha declined to see the same. When Varun told him that these actions
were tantamount to the contempt of court, he said that no approval was required
as per the Supreme Court judgement of 25 April 2013. Varun then told him that
the said judgement was in the context of MBA only and not PGDM then he said
that they would invite them on 13 September 2013 to verify all the documents
related with the institute. This did not happen. He also said that AICTE team
would visit Aravali on 20 Sep 2013. This also did not happen.
28 Feb 2014 Aravali submitted the online application for AICTE approval.
Despite Varun repeatedly trying to submit it as an application for approval
renewal, AICTE website accepted the application for new institute only. Varun
received an e-mail acknowledgement from AICTE confirming submission of Aravali
application number '1-2105291421'.
Aravali was asked to
deposit the processing fee of Rs. 5 lakhs relevant for a new institute. As
advised by AICTE Handbook, on 26 February 2014, Varun sent an e-mail on the
suggested e-mail ID of AICTE requesting for clarification on the processing fee
to be paid because Aravali was not a new institute. Since Varun did not get any
reply, he sent two reminders on 28 Feb 2014 but he still did not get any reply.
14 Mar 2014 Since Varun did not hear from AICTE on Aravali’s application
despite reminders, he made a representation to both MHRD and the Prime
Minister’s Office (PMO). Mr. Rajive Gulati, Regional Officer & Deputy
Director (North Western Regional Office), AICTE, Chandigarh telephoned Varun
from his mobile number 98889-80197 to Varun’s mobile number 94141-36500 to
discuss about approval of Aravali. Mr. Gulati told Varun that AICTE had not
received any online application from Aravali. Varun informed him the above
facts. He promised to look into the same and get back to Aravali. Varun did not
hear from him again.
01 Apr 2014 Varun continued to follow up with AICTE, MHRD and PMO. Someone
from AICTE Head Office called up from land line number 011-23724673 to Varun’s
mobile number 94141-36500 to discuss about approval of Aravali. When Varun told
him the facts, AICTE person said that they do not see the mails and asked Varun
to send the details on e-mail ID , which Varun promptly did. However, there was
23 Apr 2014 Varun continued to follow the matter with AICTE, MHRD and PMO. He
received an e-mail as well as telephone call from AICTE North-Western Regional
Office, Chandigarh asking him to come for a meeting with Scrutiny Committee on
28 April 2014 at Chandigarh.
28 Apr 2014 Meeting with the Scrutiny Committee at AICTE Chandigarh office:
Varun had gone prepared for approval renewal as applicable for an existing
management institution. However, the committee was advised by AICTE to conduct
the scrutiny as though it was a case of fresh approval for a new Institute.
When all the facts were informed to the committee members alongwith supporting
documents, they were surprised and asked Varun to submit a letter to them about
it being a case of approval renewal and not fresh approval, which was promptly
submitted by Varun.
17 May 2014 Varun received an e-mail and telephone call in the late evening
from AICTE Chandigarh office asking him to meet the Scrutiny Committee. During
the telephone call Varun requested why he was being called again, he was told
that Aravali was a new institution and a case of fresh approval. He told that
unless Aravali was considered as an existing institution and it as a case of
approval renewal which were the facts, he would not like to come.
20 May 2014 Varun received an e-mail from AICTE Chandigarh asking him to come
for meeting with the Scrutiny Committee on 23 May 2014. They asked Aravali to
submit the various documents which Varun had already submitted many times to
AICTE. It was again for fresh approval and not the approval renewal in view of
change in site and break in approval. Aravali replied that no change in site
was applicable since the original approval was itself subject to shifting to the
campus and also the break in approval happened by AICTE on the irrelevant
reason of CBI report despite the order of Rajasthan High Court. Varun declined
to go for any meeting unless Aravali was considered as an existing institution
and as approval renewal.
23 May 2014 AICTE Chandigarh sent Aravali an e-mail and a letter now saying
that the campus should be within a radius of 20 km of a major city. This new
condition has been placed despite the fact that Aravali’s original approval was
given based on the fact that the campus was 46 kms away from Jodhpur railway
station. It may be mentioned here that AICTE has given approval to several
institutions like Great Lakes Institute of Management which is 65 kms away from
Chennai and the campuses of all the new IITs & IIMs are at distances which
are greater than 20 kms. Varun responded to AICTE accordingly but there has not
been any reply till date. In any case institutions should be rewarded not
penalized for going to rural areas and building a creative relationship with
local farming communities, as Aravali has done.
21 July 2014 The entire eight page AICTE rejection letter nowhere mentions about the
merit and quality of the institution. These criteria which are enshrined
in the legislative mandate of the AICTE Act, 1987. Also the following critical
aspects, which alone are the building-blocks of the merit and quality of
educational institutions, have not been taken cognisance at all in the said
AICTE rejection letter:
2. Courses & Curricula
3. Pedagogy & Learning Tools
4. Infrastructure & Facilities
5. Organisational Networking
6. Students’ Placements
AICTE rejection letter only talks about the issues related to land and blocks of buildings.
Further to the above, the following specific aspects need to be highlighted :
- After the initial approval, the institutions have to take the approval renewal every year. If the original approval is given after due diligence by AICTE then why is there need to take the approval renewal every year? The reason is that entire approval process of AICTE is a farce and a big scam, just to collect huge bribes. The approval renewal is required every year to ensure that the AICTE is able to collect the bribes every year.
- It was with the objective of bringing transparency and remove corruption in the AICTE approval process that it was made online. However, the fact is that the institutions cannot apply online unless AICTE allows them to do so. Moreover, even after the application is submitted online, it is not processed unless and until the bribes are paid.
- The corporate world and the majority of other organizations do not give any credence and importance to the AICTE approval because they know that AICTE approval does not mean quality and merit. (Source : Business World survey of recruiters, 2003-04)
- AICTE discourages setting up of educational institutions in rural areas, since it refuses to approve institutions which are located beyond 20 kms of the city.
- As per the MHRD's own committees and various surveys done by leading magazines, an overwhelming 90% of AICTE approved management institutions are sub-standard. Most of these do not have the requisite faculty, facilities, infrastructure and organisational networking which are the essential building-blocks of quality education mandated by the AICTE Act. They do not have even regular classes. They only have the building blocks and therefore, it is primarily the builders, businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians who are successful in getting the AICTE approvals since they know how to get and manage the land and building blocks and are willing to pay the demanded bribes. They are into business of education and not in the education of business.
- In view of the above, the students passing out from such AICTE approved sub-standard institutions are not able to get the placements since they just do not have the competencies to be employable. When the students do not get the placements then others do not opt to study in these AICTE approved institutions. Consequently, the seats in these institutions go begging. In Jodhpur itself, out of 550 seats in AICTE approved management institutions, only five admissions have taken place this year as per a news-item in the local media recently. The situation is similar in almost every city in the country.
- In Aravali’s case, this institution has been receiving daily hundreds of enquiries for admissions. However, Aravali cannot do anything since the AICTE has denied it the approval renewal on reasons other than merit and quality. Now a large number of these students, who can afford it themselves and/or through loans, will go abroad to study leading to brain drain as well as outflow of money from our country.
- Because of their refusal to pay bribes, the truly meritorious and quality educational institutions are not given the approvals and approval renewals by AICTE by concocting and fabricating deficiencies which have nothing to do with merit and quality. In any case, the fact is that AICTE has deliberately and systematically forced closure of meritorious and quality educational institutions in our country for the simple reason of their refusal to pay the bribes.
In view of no admissions for fourth consecutive year and therefore, no revenue all these years, Aravali has been severally constrained financially, being on the verge of closure.
It is a pity that the HRD Ministry of even the new BJP government is allowing a corrupt and tyrannical accreditation body to run amok and kill meritorious institutions while promoting sub-standard ones. This is no way to help India find a worthy place for itself in this "Century of Knowledge"
Profile of Varun Arya
Varun, the founder director of Aravali Institute of Management was born on 01 July 1959 and brought up in a small town of Abu Road in Rajasthan. His father was educated only upto second standard and his mother could not read and write since she never went to school. There were frequent occasions in his childhood when the family managed even one simple meal with great difficulty. He started earning by doing petty work at the local shops from the very early age of five – even before going to the school at the age of six. They had a small two room house which had neither electricity nor a water connection. The floor was made of cow dung spread and the roof of iron sheets, through which water used to leak during the rains. A family of five brothers, three sisters and parents lived in this place, which they called “home”.
Excelled in School Despite Grinding Poverty
Varun studied in a government school at Abu Road, where often the classes were held in the open and during rainy season, umbrellas would be used as a protection from the rains. During the Rajasthan Board practical exams, they had to purchase and bring their own test tubes since the school could not afford even these. Despite working after school hours, Varun always stood first in the class and later first even in the school. He also showed leadership qualities by being made the monitor of the class. Whenever the concerned teacher was absent, he would stand up and take the class and at times the school headmaster would also come and sit silently while on an inspection round. Early in the school, he became the head of Junior Red Cross Society activity, where his team’s noticeable achievement was the collection of a significant amount towards helping the India-Pakistan war of 1971 deposited with the Red Cross Society of India, which sent an appreciation letter. Later he joined National Cadet Corps (NCC) in school where he was declared as the Best Cadet and rose to head it as Senior Sergeant.
While in the school, he was declared as the Best Student. He was in the Rajasthan Board merit list of higher secondary (11th standard) with 85% aggregate marks and distinction in all the subjects. His teachers showed keen interest in his avenues for higher education and helped him sit for the All India Mathematics Talent Competition, where he got Commendable Performance Certificate by the Mathematics Teachers Association of India and National Science Talent Search (NSTS) Examination. Based on his good performance in NSTS exam, he was invited by all five IITs then and BITS Pilani for direct admission in M. S. Physics programme. He opted for IIT Delhi for the simple reason that he was keen to see and explore the capital of India.
Travails at IIT Delhi
When he entered IIT Delhi as a student in 1976, he faced immense difficulties since he had come from a Hindi medium background and everything in IIT Delhi was in English. In the very first semester, in Language-I course he had the English novels “Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell, “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway and “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller. On every page of these novels he encountered a number of words he did not know the meaning of. Therefore, in Language-I course he got “D” grade which is “below average” but not “failed”. However, then he worked really very hard. In Language-II course, he managed to get “C” grade which is “Average”. His Semester Grade Point Average (SGPA) also improved from 5.90 in first semester of first year to 7, then 8 and then around 8.5 resulting in his passing out from IIT Delhi with Graduating Point Average (GPA) of 7.60 on 10-point scale and First Class (which is given for GPA of 6.5 and above).
Apart from progressively doing well in academics at IIT Delhi, he also began to hold leadership positions as Class Representative, Maintenance Secretary and Mess Secretary in the hostel, Associate Editor in the Board of Student Publications, etc. He was also actively involved in swimming, judo and badminton. His performance in extra-curricular activities was recognised by IIT Delhi by way of conferment of Exceptionally Outstanding Contribution to Hostel Management Award and Best Reporter of the Year Award.
In the final year of his studies at IIT Delhi, like many of his classmates, he also appeared in TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and CAT (Common Admission Test). Based on his performance in TOEFL and GRE, he got scholarships and admissions for doctoral studies in many leading universities in USA. Similarly based on his performance in CAT, he got admission offers from all three IIMs then – Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta. Patriotism and doing something for the nation being one of the values inculcated in him since childhood, he decided not to go abroad for higher studies and opted to study at IIM. He decided on IIM Ahmedabad as Ahmedabad was closest to his home town of Abu Road.
Shines at IIM Ahmedabad
While at IIT Delhi, he had studied with NSTS Scholarship and financial help from his eldest brother Mr. Chandra Prakash Arya who left his studies in between to work as a clerk in the Postal Department to supplement the family expenses. At IIM Ahmedabad, Varun took an educational loan from State Bank of India branch on the campus to pay for his academic fees and hostel expenses.
At IIM Ahmedabad, he was very comfortable with the studies as by the time he completed IIT Delhi, he was quite fluent in English. At IIM Ahmedabad also he became Class Representative. He also founded two important activities in IIMA – Astronomy Club and Forum for Cultural & Social Awareness (FOCUS). The Astronomy Club, with the active help and support from Prof. Devendra Lal (Director of Physical Research Laboratory) and Prof. E. V. Chitnis (Director, Space Applications Centre) – both in proximity to IIMA, became a highly popular activity. The Club had leading astronomers and astrophysicists like Prof. M. K. Vainu Bapu, Prof. Jayant Narlikar and Nobel Laureate Prof. Subramaniam Chandrashekhar visiting to give lectures. The Club also had exhibitions on universe, star gazing shows with help of a telescope purchased by the Club, films shows, conferences, etc. This Club later became an Institute activity and continues to exist at IIMA.
Towards the end of his studies at IIMA, several top Indian and multinational companies came for placements. He also applied to a number of multinational companies but they did not select him, despite his first class IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad performance, for the simple reason that he did not have the convent-school background and consequently his English did not have the kind of flow they expected in their managers. He had no choice but to join a public sector company Shipping Corporation of India (SCI). However, he told himself that he would ensure that his career progressed in such a manner that one day he would be in a senior position with a leading multinational company. After working for few years in SCI, he worked in private sector companies like Pearl Polymers Limited, Reliance Industries and Aditya Birla Group. After this he was selected in American multinational DuPont where he rose to become General Manager. Having fulfilled his dream of being in a senior position with a leading multinational, he decided to leave the cushy corporate career at the prime age of just 40 years and do something constructive and significant for the nation.
Quits Corporate Sector to Serve the Cause of Education
He did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of himself and thought that his key strength was his networking and organisational ability. In terms of opportunity, he found that his home state of Rajasthan did not have any management institution which truly developed competencies in the students as required by the corporate world. During his career with the various companies, being in the senior positions he was also involved in managerial recruitment. He found that while there were a number of applicants having MBA degree from Rajasthan, they did not have the competencies required by the companies where he worked. Therefore, much against his wishes, he was not able to select anyone from Rajasthan. That strengthened his resolve someday he would set up a management institution in Rajasthan which would have emphasis on developing the competencies required by the corporate world.
Relocation to Jodhpur
During Varun’s meetings with the Governor, Chief Minister and other senior officials in Government of Rajasthan, he was assured of all the support for setting up Aravali Institute of Management in the state. He was told that the support could in fact be significantly much more if the Institute was established in Jodhpur which was the constituency as well as the home town of the then Chief Minister. Since Jodhpur was also a central place in Rajasthan, well connected by road/rail/air, it was the second largest city of state and it had a reasonable industrial base – he decided to set up the Institute at Jodhpur.
On 05 April 2000, he relocated from Delhi to Jodhpur with his entire family, after withdrawing his three children from a leading New Delhi school, resigning from DuPont. He had done the requisite home work for one whole year for setting up of the Institute before he moved to Jodhpur.
The author is Director of Pristec America Inc. USA
Posted on August 23, 2014