Thursday, September 02, 2010

Education Bill: HRD Minister shoots himself in the foot

Human Resource Development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal seems to be getting increasingly isolated in Congress with his party colleagues blaming his unilateralism for the deferment of the Education Tribunal Bill, that aims to set up a mechanism for disposal of educational-related disputes, in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Indian Parliament). Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who rejected the minister's charge that floor managers let him down, said: "In democracy, things are done through consensus". Congress floor managers, who reiterated that the deferment of the bill was a personal defeat for the minister, said the writing on the wall was clear even before the House took up the bill. Mr. Sibal's own partymen wanted to sprint away from the legislation.

CWC (Congress Working Committee) member K. Keshava Rao, who led the demolition squad in the Rajya Sabha, went to the extent of labelling him a "file-pusher" --- euphemism for someone forwarding proposals mooted by bureaucrats. Mr. Rao also questioned the track record of the minister. During his interaction with the media on Wednesday, Mr. Bansal said that the member had the right to air his views. "We could not have issued a gag order as it would go against the member's privilege", Mr. Bansal said.

Mr. Sibal has only himself to blame for his status degradation as there were clear signals about the bill lacking requisite political support. The Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, headed by Mr. Oscar Fernandes, a leader considered close to Congress President Ms. Sonia Gandhi, had said that the bill was drafted hastily, without consulting the stakeholders. Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi is a member of this Standing Committee. Sources in Congress said that senior Congress leaders such as Janardhan Dwivedi were opposed to the legislation in its present form.

Partys floor managers on Wednesday said they had advised the HRD minister to work out a larger consensus over the bill. The minister knew that Mr. Oscar Fernandes was upset about the way his ministry treated the recommendations of the Standing Committee. But he did not make any effort to mend fences, said a senior minister.
The minister also did not display any grace while dealing with the Opposition. He dispatched an Additional Secretary of his ministry to persuade Opposition leader of the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Arun Jaitley.

Sources said the minister was advised not to go ahead with the bill on Tuesday afternoon. But he was adamant. He said he will go ahead with the bill even if it would be defeated in the House. This was unacceptable to the party, said a minister. Mr. A.K. Antony had to intervene and ask Mr. Sibal not to press for its passage, according to this leader.
Mr. Kapil Sibal, who has lodged a complaint with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against the government's floor managers, cannot expect any indulgence from him either because the PM had advised Mr. Sibal to thrash out differences over the bill when ministers like C.P. Joshi expressed reservations at a Cabinet meeting that cleared the legislation. The HRD minister did not bother to address the concerns raised by Mr. Joshi.

Source: The Economic Times, September 2, 2010

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