DIPP Meeting Narrative – Jatin Bhatt

The DIPP story as a narration- Draft from what I recollect:

Awaiting arrival of Mr. Bhaskar in the conference room at Udyog Bhawan, Amit was loading the power point presentation on the laptop. We noticed that another presentation was already loaded with the what seemed like a background build up to RFP document starting from the formulation of National Design Policy. Mr. Bhaskar entered with three other persons, one of them being a young gentleman introduced later as the chairman of the committee to screen the applicants in response to the ad for NIDs.

He announced himself with authority and intrigue of our agenda. He briefly inquired about our issues with Rashmi but interjected to state that other designer groups have also represented and they were open to speak to as many.

He put the ball in our court and asked how we would like to proceed. Amit started with the power point stating that would put our stated position, concerns and VisionFirst as a context of the interaction.

He interjected at a point stating that we are talking of scientific thinking after viewing the examples of design thinking. While Ranjan and Amit started to explain that we are talking of design thinking being different from Scientific or technical approach and that such a difference was recognised world over as evidenced by management institutes, governments etc he cut short the issue to go back to the presentation.

While being explained the the premise of Design Thinking and the Design paradigm of the future by Amit and Ranjan, Mr. Bhaskar came up with another interjection concerning Nrega. He inquired if we had seen the form to be filled up by the beneficiaries and that it being so complicated, it was a real challenge for the illiterates. A clever question about whether we have tried to redesign it and demonstrate his understanding of our argument. Our explanation went to further reinforce the need for design in varied sectors and particularly among all ministries and that this is an opportunity to take a stock of the emerging paradigms of design and hence design education must reflect these changes for the benefits to India and industry including the design entrepreneurs who have expanded the boundaries of design beyond their learning.

Almost as a surprise query, he asked to individually put forth our credentials. Subtle aggression and challenge in an atmosphere of a slowly building restlessness about the nature of interaction, all of us articulated our “ Tell you who we are” individually with very evident firmness and a point to prove. It did have its effect with the posturing that we put forth in the rest of the meeting.

Still awaiting the main issue, someone had to give. Coming to the point, Ranjan and Amit brought forth the RFP and categorically stated that it did not seem right that almost all allumni and design practitioners including NID were left out through the structuring of RFP terms. The discussions veered around the financial filters ‘designed’ to focus on physical infrastructure of building and land and it sounded like property development than an informed approach to institution building. Prepared to stonewall this issue from the start, Mr. Bhaskar elaborated on the limitations of the the prescribed process set by the government. Trying to justify this ‘procedural bind’, he gave an example of very bright irrigation engineers not being considered for irrigation contract and that invariably the contractors with wherewithal of implementing over 1000 crore projects being called for tendering process and bids.

He then got to the issue of lack of funds for this project and how difficult it has been to get 400 crores from the planning commission to intitiate the process of setting up new NIDs. Of course, he was again asked categorically by Ranjan about the disparage in importance with regard to Design as against technology and science when many governments of other countries are showing serious commitment to design. When Mr. Bhaskar persisted with the limitation of not getting money and tried through the Director to elaborate on the process from National Design Policy in 2007 to date to get these funds, he was asked by Ranjan if he can be quoted about the lack of funds for Design Education, he became quite defensive and specifically said that what he was saying is off the record and that we should not quote him as he was doing his job. Mr. Bhaskar then went on to explain how such initiatives are necessarily going the PPP model with a need to get funds from private partners considering the limitations of funding from the government.

On our persistence of the argument on the same lines, he once again went to explain that the process has been transparent and that if we were so keen to participate in the the process, we should have bid as well with some others having the required financial and experience base. Amit pointed out that its not just about meeting the criteria but also meeting of minds committed to deliver value through education. Mr. Bhaskar then went on to explain that the process is designed to account for views of all sections of the stakeholders and that it is not only about building & infrastructure but also about recommendations on management structure, curricula, faculty, financial models, regulation structures from the consultant winning the bid. Then he suddenly asked if we believed both education and design practice need a regulatory body which was being considered by the Ministry as recommended in the Design Policy document. While we collectively responded in the negative, he hinted at such a move in the offing. He further stated that the draft report will be shared openly for critique, suggestions, ideas and views of larger body of stakeholders including design community in form of a one/two day workshop/seminar and that this process will be directly under the aegis of DIPP monitoring. He also said that we could recommend the city of our choice and they are open to suggestions.

This to & fro arguments went to the last 10 minutes as he announced that he will need to leave for another meeting. With no specific outcome being seen, there was a need to explore another line. Jatin stated that with DIPP overseeing the development of new design education initiatives, there must be a possibility of engaging this group for an independent process of vision development which can not only converge at some point with the current RFP process rolled out but also become a reference beyond for various design education initiatives in future. On persisting with the issue, he argued about the fact that once the process is rolled out, there can not be any change sighting the CVC as watchdog on the propriety of the process. He also said that with CVC overseeing, no bureaucrats steer away from the prescribed process and it is like a train on a railway track with no possibility of steering off course. He again reiterated that the funds have come after a lot of persuasion, and that there are no options but a PPP model to ensure additional and continuous funding for such initiatives. Also they decided to get the process going with some urgency as it was already more than four years since the announcement of Design Policy and new NIDs committed therein.

Elaborating again on need for private funds if new NIDs are to come up, he again justified the process. Changing the argument, Jatin asked how the ministry felt they could not get funds or backing from private investment to commit to a genuinely envisaged vision for new NIDs as both NID and design are seen as an investment of great brand & value and that it is not at all difficult to find funding from right minded sources for a well thought out vision statement which must precede building and infrastructure. He reacted by saying that while he appreciates our commitment, understanding and ideas on design, setting up & running education institutes is a different challenge. Jatin asked if he expected a new paradigm from the selected consultant such as not four but forty NIDs and that the funds will be utilized more innovatively to maximize value. He also added that such propositions can only be possible if a group like ours is commissioned to articulate the vision document for the emerging national needs.

While winding up the meeting Mr. Bhaskar again reiterated that he and ministry are open and approachable and that the group should have come to him earlier and attended the RFP briefing session as others did. He also stated that there were some suggestions from the potential bidders which were considered and revised. On a conciliatory mode while subtly acknowledging that we had come through higher ups for this meeting, he said that even now the group can tie up with the winning bidder and realise their concerns about the proposed vision. He asked the group to jointly form an entity and reach out to the winning bidder. We again reiterated that we are only representing a very large and concerned community of over 1200 practitioners, academics and design thinkers across the country and that this concerns and need for vision have been debated on the online forums over two months. Further, a small working group of 12 practitioners and thinkers of design have, over two weeks put this argument together in the presentation and Visionfirst document. While we communicated the levels of passionate commitment and concerns among the vast design community about the DIPP process, he asked his team to collect our cards and ensure that we are invited to review the draft proposal from the consultant while walking out after a hand shake with all five of us.

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