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50% seat rise aim in a year
- Ministry confident but doubts remain

New Delhi, May 25: The human resource development ministry is giving the impression that the monumental task of raising the number seats in higher educational institutions by over 50 per cent to meet the government’s quota obligations can be completed before the academic session beginning June 2007.

According to the announcement made on Tuesday by the government, the 27 per cent quota for other backward classes (OBC) in central institutions will take hold from June 2007. It also made a commitment to increase the number of seats to address the concerns of general-category students who have been protesting for almost two weeks.

The ministry, therefore, is working on the assumption that the current number of seats available to general students does not shrink once the quota kicks in.

If in an institution there are now 100 seats, 77.5 are for general students and 22.5 for SC/ST categories. With the 27 per cent quota being introduced, the reserved portion of seats will increase to almost half of the total. In order to still make 77.5 seats available to general students, the total number of seats will have to go up to 154.

“We have made a commitment that the interests of all sections of students will be taken care of,” said a ministry official.

How the institutions and universities do this ' what formula they adopt ' is still to be worked out. “Things will start moving after the oversight committee is constituted,” said the official.

The government will set up this committee to see through implementation of the quota. The committee and the institute heads who will be involved in the process will have the freedom to work out the modalities of introducing the policy and may not necessarily agree with the ministry proposal.

HRD minister Arjun Singh said the ministry’s final proposal would be sent to the cabinet in 10 days.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made it clear at a news conference in Srinagar today that there was no question of a review. “I think the matter is already settled,” he said. “I am pained to see the agonising experience the youth of the country are undergoing. They should call off their strike.”

“I am not averse to meeting any group of our citizens, if they want to talk to me.”

The students and junior doctors have threatened to step up their agitation.

Despite the ministry’s bravado, it’s not clear how seats can be increased by over 50 per cent in just a year. The IITs have been increasing the number of seats at the rate of 15-20 per cent a year.

IIM Calcutta has a target of raising the number of seats to 400 in 2008 from 335 in the academic session starting next month. Together, the IIMs have 1,600 seats which will need to be raised to nearly 2500.

The Centre has assured an additional Rs 9,000 crore for the extra seats and infrastructure. “Funds are not a problem,” said a ministry official.

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