The Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry had an eventful 2015 with new initiatives like setting in motion the process to formulate a new education policy amid allegations of saffronisation of education and some controversial resignations.
As the year began, the ministry began deliberations on creating the education policy. Former Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian was appointed chairperson of a committee to draft the policy.
During the year, the move to implement a choice-based credit system which will make migrating seamlessly from one university to another easier also gathered pace.
The ministry also set up a committee to probe into alleged administrative irregularities against Visva Bharati University Vice-Chancellor Sushanta Duttagupta. The committee found Duttagupta guilty of some of the charges after which the HRD ministry wrote to the President seeking his removal.
However, the President wrote back with a query whether denying the vice chancellor a “hearing in person” on allegations levelled against him was legally tenable.
Another major controversy that hit the ministry was in March, when it came to light that eminent nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar had resigned as chairman of the board of governors of IIT Bombay, apparently because of differences with the HRD Minister Smriti Irani over the selection of some IIT directors.
Kakodkar, however, agreed to complete his tenure which was supposed to come to an end in May, after Irani, had a long telephonic conversation with him.
Another body which saw resignations in the year was the Indian Council of Historical research where first Gopinath Ravindran quit as its member secretary. Later, its chief Y Sudershan Rao, who was appointed by the present government, too resigned citing personal reasons.
During the year, the HRD ministry launched several initiatives like GIAN (Global Initiative of Academic Networks), which would bring foreign faculty to Indian institutes, and National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), which would rank Indian educational institutions.
However, its draft IIM bill attracted criticism and fears that it would affect the institutes’ autonomy after which the ministry decided to hold wider consultations. During the year, the HRD ministry also put a lid on a controversy that erupted last year by entering into an agreement as per which German will be taught in Kendriya Vidyalayas as an additional foreign language while modern Indian languages will be taught in Germany.
The ministry was also in the news as various members, close to the RSS and BJP, got important positions in bodies like the Indian Council for Historical Research, CABE and National Book Trust.
On some occasions, Irani even expressed her views on such allegations. Speaking at an event in June, she dismissed the charge that education under the present government was being saffronised.
“I never ask students about religion as we do not discriminate the right of a student to education on the basis of caste or religion,” she said.
On another occasion, she took a jibe at critics alleging saffronisation of education and said the country’s inherent strength in education, ancient concept and values are hailed and applauded abroad but is described as “saffron” back in the country.
Irani found herself in a spot when her remarks that women in the country are not told what to wear, whom to meet and where to go, drew voices of dissent from an audience she was addressing.
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras also was at the centre of a row over derecognition of a students’ group, many of them Dalits, following a complaint that it was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, triggering protests from Congress and AAP.
The ministry also constituted a 13-member expert panel headed by former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami to deliberate on issues related to Sanskrit as part of its attempt to promote the language. There was also a wide debate on the no detention policy in schools and many state government too expressed unhappiness with it.
Another controversy that took place during the year was over the reported UGC move to close the non-NET fellowships which the HRD ministry said would not happen. Sailing through a controversial tenure, Delhi University Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh demitted office during the year.
A committee constituted by the IIT council recommended major changes in entrance examination structure for these prestigious institutes including setting up of a national testing service, which would hold tests on the basis of which around four lakh students would be shortlisted for Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).
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