After facing criticism over signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the reportedly non-existent “Austin University”, the Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday clarified that it had signed an MoU with the Austin Consulting Group (ACG) of the United States amid demands by the Opposition parties to issue a White Paper on foreign investment.
“The MoU has been signed with Austin Consulting Group and not Austin University. More importantly, MoUs are non-binding, hence we are not committed. The U.P. government after receiving MoUs does due diligence and sincerely looks at the proposal before going ahead,” Siddhart Nath Singh, a former U.P. Minister who was part of the delegation to the U.S. when the MoU was signed, told The Hindu.
On Sunday, the State government through an official statement declared signing an MoU with the Austin University in San Francisco, U.S., in the presence of Finance Minister Suresh Khanna, Additional Chief Secretary for Infrastructure and Industrial Development Arvind Kumar and former Minister Singh, to build a Knowledge Smart City which would include the best universities of the world at a cost of ₹42 billion (about ₹35,000 crore). The government faced embarrassment after reports in media highlighted that the State of California in the U.S. has already taken action against this “university”, and its “non-accredited institution status” was revoked in November 2022 after it was found during an inspection that the premises of the varsity (university building) was vacant.
Amid the ongoing controversy, Samajwadi Party president and former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav alleged that not a penny of investment has come from abroad and asked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government “to not mislead the people in the name of investment”. The former CM added: “The BJP government must explain how much capital investment was made in Uttar Pradesh through the last capital investment summit and how many got employment. The truth is that during the tenure of the BJP government, not a single industry is visible on the ground. We demand a White Paper,” he added.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that it had seen the reports about the controversy over the MoU but said it was not responsible for the outcomes of the delegation’s visit, and that MoUs were negotiated “directly” by the State government. “Yes, our consulate extended assistance to the [U.P. government] delegation [in the U.S.], but on the MoU, I would direct you to the State government that has the [details],” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in response to questions at the weekly media briefing in New Delhi.
To a specific question on whether clearance was sought for CM Yogi Adityanath’s visit to the U.S., the MEA spokesperson said he was not aware of the request.
Reports have said that the Austin University at the centre of the controversy is different from the prestigious University of Texas, Austin, which is among the largest educational institutions in the U.S and home to thousands of international students from across the globe.