Quota for OBCs in elite educational institutes dominates 2006

M V Meenakshisundaram, New Delhi, Dec 27 (PTI) Reservation for backward classes in elite educational institutions like IITs and IIMs revived the Mandal era controversy but that did not deter the Government from going ahead with implementing the quota regime during 2006.

HRD Minister Arjun Singh came to the fore with his efforts to give the deprived a better opportunity in institutions of higher learning, but after much criticism and widespread protests from a section of the student community with the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences becoming a nerve centre for the anti-quota stir.

A casual reference to the OBC reservation issue by Singh at an NCERT function found himself landing before the Election Commission which sought his comments to clear any violation of the model code of conduct ahead of the assembly elections in five states earlier this year.

Singh weathered all storms on the quota issue. The Supreme Court had pulled up the Government for playing the quota game without rules and a Parliamentary Committee on HRD ad advised it to exclude creamy layer from the quota regime.

Despite pulls and pressure within the UPA allies, the Union Cabinet decided to introduce in Parliament the quota bill in its original form and with the inclusion of the creamy layer.

Singh's steady march to ensure quota for OBCs continued and by the end of the year, the bill providing 27 per cent quota for the OBC students had been passed both Houses of Parliament.

In the midst of developments on the quota issue, Singh's detractors questioned his role with several of them accusing him of trying to get political mileage for himself.

It was quota all the way in the education sector that pushed many other key issues to a back seat.

But all is not well in the education sector also became apparent with Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, in his speech in Parliament, lamenting the state of affairs on this front and emphasising the need for out of box solution for making India a global power in education.

As the year came to a close, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi also said that she personally was in favour of a role for the private sector in education.

The credit also goes to Veerappa Moily, a backward class leader and former Karnataka Chief Minister, who headed the Oversight Committee to facilitate the revolutionary measure to extend reservation to OBC students.

The Moily committee, tasked with preparing a road map for the implementation of the 27 per cent reservation in elite institutions including IITs and IIMs, came up with a slew of suggestions to upgrade infrastructure in institutes of higher education for implementing the quota regime in a staggered manner.

The issue of phased implementation of the quota regime also created a controversy with UPA's southern allies like DMK and PMK making a strong pitch for implementing the process in one go.

Among the salient recommendations, the Moily panel suggested that all institutes of higher learning should fully implement the quota structure within the maximum period of three years starting 2007, setting up of a national merit scholarships scheme, lifting recruitment ban in educational institutions in teaching and support cadres and enhancing the age of superannuation.

With the dust generated over OBC quota in aided institutions almost settled down, the government quickly constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to evolve a political consensus on the issue of quota extention to unaided institutes.

The year also saw a tug-of-war on the entry of foreign universities between the Ministries of HRD and the Commerce which is strongly batting for allowing them in the country.

While the Commerce Ministry argued that Indians students and the country would benefit if foreign institutions set up campuses in the country as Indian students spent about four billion US dollars annually for studying abroad, HRD Ministry was against entry of fly-by-night operators.

For Singh, who was also seen championing he cause of Muslims, the findings of Sachar commitee cam as a boon. Suggesting several measres for the uplift of Mulims, th Sachar Committee noted that literac rate among Muslims in 2001 was 59.1 per cent, far below the national average of 65.1 per cent.

Quickly grabbing the opportunity, the HRD Minister turned proactive and constituted a high-powered panel for preparing a plan of action for the implementation of Sachar committee recommendations concerning the education sector and formulating views on them.

Singh also said that the government was open to suggestions from all quarters to set up a Central Madarsa Board to modernise education in Madarsas.

The Madrasas, which volunteer for introducing modern subjects like Mathematics, Science and English, were being assisted under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Area Intensive and Madrassa Modernisation Programme, Singh said.

The Ministry is also planning a National Textbook Council to review textbooks for schools outside the government system.

It would ensure that no book propagates anything, which is against the Constitution, defames the country, challenges sovereignty and integrity of the nation and incites any religion.

The year also saw liberal scholarships to girl students by the Ministry and the CBSE.

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