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PM seeks status report on quota bills

New Delhi, Nov. 7: The Prime Minister has sought from the human resource development ministry a report on the status of bills dealing with quotas in higher education and foreign investment in education.

The move to make such a request, forwarded by the Prime Minister’s Office, suggests that Manmohan Singh would like to expedite the process of ironing out the hurdles before the winter session of Parliament begins in two weeks.

Two of the three bills intend to introduce quotas for the other backward classes — one at government and the other at private institutes. The third bill aims to regulate the entry of foreign education providers.

The cabinet will also consider a proposal to set up a university for persons of Indian origin who live outside the country and are no longer its citizens.

A committee of secretaries has cleared the bill. It will go to the cabinet now.

The passage of all three bills is fraught with hurdles. The first, ensuring a 27 per cent quota for OBCs in higher education, is under the scrutiny of a parliamentary standing committee.

Another, for quotas in unaided deemed universities, is pending before a group of ministers. The third, on foreign education providers, is being examined by another panel of ministers.

The issue of the creamy layer is undecided.

A Supreme Court judgment has sought the exclusion of this affluent section from all categories, including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, of reservation in government jobs.

The Left parties are divided. The CPM wants the exclusion in case of OBCs, but not SCs and STs. The CPI wants the concept to apply to none.

Divisions on the foreign education providers are deeper. The bill is caught up in a tussle between two cabinet lobbies trying to thrash out a consensus in the group of ministers. One group wants regulations liberalised as much as possible.

It believes foreign institutions should be free from “stringent” regulations that “slow down foreign direct investment in education”.

The other group echoes the HRD ministry view that foreign institutions cannot be given preferential treatment. It feels they should be bound by regulations applying to Indian institutions, including norms on fixing the fee structure, admission procedures and quotas.

The Left has also demanded affirmative action for Muslims. At last week’s conference of state minority commissions, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the move was needed to “bring them into the national mainstream”.

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