In­tel­lec­tual theft

The Delhi high court has fined Bi­har's chief min­is­ter for ap­pro­pri­at­ing a scholar's book and pass­ing it off as his own

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Bi­har chief min­is­ter is fined for pass­ing a scholar's book as his own

PLAGIARISM IS A pretty com­mon fail­ing. Jour­nal­ists, aca­demics, sci­en­tists have all been guilty of this. Some­times, it is an ex­pres­sion or a sen­tence or two that is lifted. At other times, it is a para­graph or more. There have also been cases, not so com­mon though, of an en­tire chap­ter be­ing ap­pro­pri­ated. But rarely has one heard of an en­tire book writ­ten by an­other be­ing brazenly passed off as one’s own. In this case, it is a wily politi­cian who has done the un­think­able, by a man who has proved him­self adept in chang­ing al­liances and po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy to re­main in power.

Meet Bi­har Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar who has been fined `20,000 for ap­pro­pri­at­ing a scholar’s work and pub­lish­ing it as a book that he had au­thored. In re­cent weeks, Ku­mar has been in the head­lines for chang­ing horses mid­stream when he dumped his ally Lalu Ya­dav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, who was re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing him back to power in the 2015 Assem­bly elec­tions, to once again team up with the Bharatiya Janata Party. In pol­i­tics, such turn­abouts are the norm; and don’t in­vite moral cen­sure. But Ku­mar is now in the news for some­thing he can­not shrug off lightly.

In 2009, Atul Ku­mar Singh, then a doc­toral fel­low at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity (jnu), was taken aback to find his PhD the­sis Role of State in Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion: A case Study of Con­tem­po­rary Bi­har of 2006 was be­ing re­leased as a book ti­tled Spe­cial Cat­e­gory Sta­tus, A Case for Bi­har with Ku­mar as the au­thor. Although Ku­mar later said he had only en­dorsed the book, he had in a press in­ter­view be­fore the book’s high-pro­file re­lease by econ­o­mist Megh­nad De­sai claimed: “I have writ­ten a book on con­di­tions pre­vail­ing in the state and to con­vince the na­tion about the need for grant­ing spe­cial sta­tus to Bi­har...”

Af­ter Singh threat­ened le­gal ac­tion, Ku­mar’s of­fice changed tack and said the book was brought out by the Patna-based Asian De­vel­op­ment Re­search In­sti­tute (adri) and that the chief min­is­ter was just en­dors­ing it. adri then be­gan hound­ing him, Singh said, af­ter he re­in­forced his right as the sole and ex­clu­sive au­thor. In other words, his copy­right had been vi­o­lated. In 2010, Singh moved a pe­ti­tion in the Delhi high court against Ku­mar, adri and its di­rec­tor Saibal Gupta.

In an in­ter­locu­tory ap­pli­ca­tion, the chief min­is­ter said he had no as­so­ci­a­tion with the other de­fen­dants and that his name should be re­moved as de­fen­dant—he is named as the first de­fen­dant—be­cause he had only en­dorsed the book. Since there was no cause made out for in­sti­tut­ing and main­tain­ing the suit, he had been im­pleaded with “mala fide” in­ten­tion.

How­ever, the court re­jected his con­tention and noted that two of the scholar’s su­per­vi­sors from jnu had cer­ti­fied his work as orig­i­nal. The facts were, there­fore, cu­mu­la­tively sufficient to give the plain­tiff the right to sue Ku­mar, it said. It also said “...the present in­terim ap­pli­ca­tion [by Ni­tish Ku­mar] is sheer abuse of process of law. Same is dis­missed with cost of `20,000”.

The chief min­is­ter’s coun­sel has been quoted as say­ing the order would be chal­lenged, but it would seem that the dam­age has al­ready been done to Ku­mar’s rep­u­ta­tion. That is, if any­one was in doubt af­ter read­ing his ini­tial claim of hav­ing au­thored the book and his later re­trac­tion. The plain­tiff has also claimed dam­ages to­talling `25 lakh from the other de­fen­dants.

When the case was filed by Singh, Gupta had made some ex­tra­or­di­nary at­tempts to de­fend Ku­mar. In an in­ter­view he had claimed Singh’s work was ad­vo­cacy ma­te­rial for Bi­har and “we could have got max­i­mum lever­age if the name of the chief min­is­ter was as­so­ci­ated with this.” But Ku­mar, he said “has no aca­demic pre­ten­sions. If he re­ally wants to write a book, he can get the best minds to help him.” In­deed.


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