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Leg-up for Besu bill

Mukherjee

New Delhi, Dec. 23: The nudge, it appears, came from the First Citizen.

Parliament has fast-tracked a bill to upgrade the Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu) to an institution of national importance, 10 days after a House panel had submitted its report suggesting recommendations.

The Lok Sabha last week passed the National Institute of Technology, Science Education and Research (Amendment) Bill, which jumped a queue that included at least six bills on reforms in higher education that were introduced in the last three years and are still pending.

The Besu bill — which seeks to upgrade the 157-year-old state university to a status enjoyed by the IITs, NITs and the Indian Institutes for Science Education and Research — was introduced in March this year.

The original list of business for December 18, the day the lower House cleared the bill, also did not mention it, though the supplementary list did. Multiple government sources later said the fast track followed a prod from President Pranab Mukherjee.

There was no official communication from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the human resource development ministry. The President’s press secretary, Venu Rajamony, ruled out any pressure from Rashtrapati Bhavan. “Such allegations are baseless,” Rajamony told The Telegraph.

The bill, now pending in the Rajya Sabha, aims to promote Besu to an Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, in what would be the first such upgrade for a state university. The new status would bring a grant of nearly Rs 600 crore over the next five years, apart from other benefits.

The government pushed the bill in its original form despite the standing committee’s recommendations that included reservation “to the extent possible” for students from Bengal.

When Speaker Meira Kumar called the HRD minister to move the bill, minister M.M. Pallam Raju was not present. Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath then asked technology minister Kapil Sibal to move it.

Sibal said “I move the bill”, but Kumar insisted that the minister concerned move it. Junior HRD minister Sashi Tharoor then moved the bill, which was passed by voice vote.

The government usually takes a few weeks to a few months to examine the report of a standing committee, unless a bill is prioritised, sources said. An HRD ministry official said the ministry had gone through the suggestions but did not incorporate any. “The main recommendation was about reservation for students from Bengal. We will ensure that in the statute.”