Regime change, controversies clouded education reforms

UPA proposals get lost in logjam in 15th Lok Sabha

If lack of action by the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government marked the first five months of 2014, the later part of the year was marred by a series of controversies ever since Smriti Irani assumed charge of the Human Resource Development Ministry with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coming to power at the Centre.

While most of the major proposals of the UPA to bring reforms in the education sector got drowned mainly in Parliament logjam which continued till the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha, some of the key decisions taken during the then HRD Minister M M Pallam Raju’s term could  not find their way as the focus of the erstwhile government shifted to the 16th Lok Sabha elections soon after the year began.

After several months of efforts, the ministry had finalised launching of 50 education channels to provide students pursuing higher education  from different streams access to curriculum-based lectures by eminent teachers and experts much before the Lok Sabha polls. The ministry, however, failed to roll out these satellite channels even as it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Prasar Bharati for its support. The fate of the proposal is still unclear.

Another proposal of the UPA government to double the remuneration of mid-day-meal cooks from the current Rs 1,000 per month to Rs 2,000 too did not materialise. While the outgoing UPA left it at the proposal stage itself even as it was approved by the Expenditure Finance Committee in January, the NDA put it on hold after coming to power.

The erstwhile government’s proposal to introduce solar cookers and fuel-efficient “chulhas” (stoves) for cooking mid-day meals in 5,000 schools on a pilot basis also got lost in the ministry’s files with the change of regime at the Centre. Eight new IITs, set up during UPA regime, are still awaiting funds required for shifting to their permanent campuses.

In the run-up to Lok Sabha elections, however, the ministry launched a special education scheme, Taleem-e-Balighan, to benefit Muslim adolescents and adults in February, which was seen as an attempt of the Congress-led UPA government to woo Muslims ahead of the polls.

Irani, who assumed the charge of the HRD ministry in the last week of May, started her debut stint in the Union Cabinet with controversy over her educational qualification and discrepancies in her poll affidavits as the Opposition raised the issue to attack her.

The minister had hardly recovered from the row when she landed in fresh controversy in June for forcing the Delhi University to roll back the four-year under-graduate programme (FYUP), launched during UPA regime. The rollback of the FYUP at DU, however, was seen as an achievement of the minister in government circles as it was a promise made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its manifesto for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Soon after coming to power, the NDA government announced setting up of five new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). During his US visit a few months back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi even managed to secure the Barack Obama administration’s support in establishing one proposed IIT in Goa.

The ministry, however, failed to establish any of the five IITs even though Irani pushed her officials to speed up the process.

The ministry, however, announced some of the scholarship schemes for girls and differently abled students in 2014, besides some other programmes like massive open online courses, which were visualised during the UPA regime.

Dogged by controversies over her decision to replace teaching of German language with Sanskrit in schools and allegations of attempting to “saffronise” the country’s education towards the end of the year, Irani is now looking up to start a nationwide discourse right from the panchayat level in 2015 to formulate a new education policy, another poll promise made by the BJP.

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