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Union Cabinet withdraws Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011

October 6, 2014


The Union cabinet on 24 September withdrew the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011, that sought to create an overarching regulator for higher education, replacing the University Grant Commission (UGC), the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the National Council for Teachers Education and the Distance Education Council. This is the first instance of the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government scrapping an important draft legislation that was introduced in Parliament by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The Bill, introduced in Parliament in December 2011 by then human resource development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal, sought to create a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) as an independent statutory body in education along the lines of capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India. The proposed NCHER was to determine, coordinate, maintain and promote standards of higher education and research (university, vocational, technical and professional education), other than agricultural education and medical education. The Bill sought to give all powers related to higher education to the proposed commission even though education is a subject controlled by both the Union and state governments. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters after the cabinet meeting in New Delhi that the government thought it was not in sync with the federal structure of the country. Prasad said that the HRD-related parliamentary standing committee had expressed its reservation on the Bill. The standing committee had said the HRD ministry had not consulted state governments while drafting this Bill. It recommended that state governments be given a say in the formulation of any policy on higher education. It had also opposed the proposal to scrap UGC, AICTE and other regulators. “In view of the suggestions and recommendations of the PSC (parliamentary standing committee) on HRD, the government has decided to withdraw the HE&R Bill (higher education Bill), 2011,” it said in a statement. “We always felt that an authoritarian body like NCHER will be counterproductive for the sector. We had told the ministry that higher education cannot be controlled by the Union government alone. This withdrawal means the NDA will not blindly push education reform bills of the UPA,” said Harivansh Chaturvedi, alternate president of the Education Promotion Society of India, a federation of private education players. Sibal didn’t immediately respond to phone calls and a text message seeking comment. The cabinet committee on economic affairs approved the Swacch Bharat Mission that will be officially launched on 2 October for a period of five years to create a clean India. Initially, it will be implemented in 4,041 towns. The total cost of the campaign will be Rs.62,009 crore of which the Union government will contribute Rs.14,620 crore and the rest will be mobilized from other sources including non-state entities. The existing Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan will be “restructured” into the new scheme, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It will have two segments—the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin) and the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban). The cabinet also approved the setting up of a fund that will be used to clean the Ganga river, and set up waste treatment and disposal plants. Those contributing to the Clean Ganga Fund will also get tax benefits. An initial sum of Rs.2,047 crore has already been allocated in the budget. The cabinet also cleared a proposal to allow the department of science and technology and the department of atomic energy to be part of the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) project in Hawaii, at a total cost of Rs.1,299.8 crore. The decision comes two days before the start of Modi’s official tour to the US. The TMT will be constructed at a cost of $1.47 billion by an international consortium consisting of institutions from the US, Canada, Japan, India and China.

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