Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: Under criticism from his Cabinet colleagues, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal on Saturday sought to clarify that the final decision on the proposed National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) remained with the government at the “highest level” and that the decision would be “acceptable” to the Ministry.

Speaking to journalists at the end of a daylong consultation organised by the task force on the draft NCHER bill with academics from across the country, Mr. Sibal said the bill was the property of the task force. The government could change its title and take the final call.

The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry and the Bar Council of India oppose the idea of transferring medical and legal education to the Human Resource Development Ministry, which is piloting the legislation and which has set up the task force.

The task force decided to set up an ‘informal' committee of four eminent persons. It will study the drafts of the NCHER and National Council for Human Resource in Health (NCHRH) bills to ensure there was no overlap. The committee will comprise Srinath Reddy and Ranjit Roy Choudhary (both members of the HCHRH task force) and M.K. Bhan and Syeda Hamid, both members of the NCHER task force. Mr. Sibal said the inputs received at the consultation would be taken into account while finalising the draft NCHER bill before it was placed before the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) next month. After the CABE approved it, the draft Bill would be sent to the government.

Task force member N.R. Madhava Menon said the legislation was aimed at granting more autonomy and academic freedom to universities, and this would lead to more accountability. The government would have no role in the setting up of the commission, and there were mechanisms to check its misuse. “We also want medical, legal and agricultural higher education to be under the purview of the commission,” he said. The task force would recommend to the government to amend the Constitution for bringing agriculture education to the Concurrent List. Another member M.K. Bhan said the second draft of the Bill — discussed at the consultation — was more consistent with the federal structure, as it had representation for the States, and for a wide spectrum of areas. The participants also agreed with the new draft that had a provision for setting up a general council that allowed for wider discussions. Of the newly constituted Board of Governors that replaced the Medical Council of India, one member turned up for the consultation.

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