Smriti Irani was relieved of the Human Resource Development (HRD) portfolio Tuesday, at a time when her ministry was locked in a fresh tussle with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on the degree of autonomy that the government’s proposed “world-class universities” should enjoy.
The PMO and HRD Ministry were learnt to have had major disagreements over 13 provisions of the draft regulations for setting up 20 institutions of global standards. The “world-class universities” project was the biggest Budget announcement on education this year, with its progress being tracked closely by the PMO.
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There were also differences over the IIM Bill, with the PMO virtually blocking Cabinet approval for the draft law after the HRD Ministry did not relent to two changes proposed by it. The matter was then escalated to Principal Secretary to the PM, Nripendra Misra, who called for a meeting with Higher Education Secretary V S Oberoi on July 2 to discuss five key issues, including the IIM Bill, Budget announcements and the delay in introducing free Wi-Fi access in central universities. But the meeting was cancelled, virtually at the last minute, said sources.
While the reasons for Irani being shifted out remained unclear till Tuesday evening, what was evident was that her removal had come at a time when she was on the verge of making major changes in the sector — the biggest being the announcement of the new national education policy.
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As she moves to the Textile Ministry, Irani leaves behind a long list of unfinished business for her successor, Prakash Javadekar. Apart from finalising the policy and world-class universities, the ministry is in the process of establishing a National Academic Depository — a database of all academic certificates — and a Vedic Education Board for pathshalas and Sanskrit schools, initiate a review of the school education curriculum and draft a new language policy.
Besides, several key appointments, such as that of the chairman of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and directors of several IIMs, are pending.
During her stint, Irani, who is the youngest Cabinet Minister in the Council, also found herself in the midst of controversies, with her ministry replacing German with Sanskrit as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas and the resignation of former IIT director R K Shevgaonkar and IIT Bombay chairman Anil Kakodkar.
The Opposition was also relentless in its attack on Irani in the case of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide at Hyderabad Central University and the arrest of JNU students for allegedly shouting seditious slogans.
The HRD Ministry had also reversed the UPA’s government’s stand on Aligarh Muslim University’s minority status. Recently, it filed an affidavit in Supreme Court stating that AMU cannot be a minority institution as the Constitution doesn’t allow the Centre to set up and run such a university.
Recently, former Cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian had expressed his unhappiness over the HRD Ministry not making public the report on the new education policy. Subramanian had headed the committee that drafted the report.
Irani is also the first education minister under whom two central university vice-chancellors were sacked for alleged financial and administrative irregularities.
Irani’s legacy as HRD Minister included tangible results, too. The launch of the Global Initiative of Academic Network (GIAN), under which scholars from abroad were recruited in higher education, and the indigenous ranking framework for universities and educational institutes were among them.
The ministry also cleared pending appointments, including the posts of eight vice-chancellors at central universities and the heads of AICTE, NCERT and Indian Council of Philosophical Research.
However, the most notable achievement of the Irani-led ministry was completion of the Swachh Vidyalaya target, the initiative to build over four lakh toilets in government schools.