The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM meet triggers rethink
- Quota protesters describe talks as ‘helpful’

New Delhi, May 26: Medical students spearheading the protest against the proposed 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes tonight began discussing whether it was time to call off their 13-day strike that has paralysed health services.

The confabulations among representatives of resident doctors in the capital followed their meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today, which one resident doctor described as “helpful”.

The meeting with Manmohan also prompted students to change an effigy of the Prime Minister that they had prepared to burn. It hurriedly metamorphosed into an effigy of V.P. Singh. As Prime Minister, V.P. Singh had tried to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations for OBC quotas that triggered nationwide protests.

An effigy of human resource development minister Arjun Singh was also burnt. The 30-foot contraption of cardboard, wood and straw representing the minister imploded as students screaming “Arjun Singh hai hai” set alight firecrackers packed in its torso.

“Representatives of various colleges who met the PM still have to talk with their fellow students before they can make an announcement,” said Sashmit Sarangi, a resident doctor of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

“We can’t say at this point whether the strike will continue or will be called off.”

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said Manmohan assured the students that the road map laid down for the quota addressed the concerns of all classes.

He said he foresaw a massive expansion in the capacity of the higher education system which would see a huge growth in the educational opportunities available to all categories of students.

The students were also told that they could offer specific suggestions to technical expert groups that were being set up under the oversight committee to examine ways of expanding capacities in institutions.

Before Manmohan spoke to the students, HRD minister Arjun met the Prime Minister.

There was no official word on what transpired between the two leaders.

The Prime Minister’s media adviser, Sanjaya Baru, said in the talks between the students and Manmohan, AIIMS director P. Venugopal, health secretary P.K. Hota and principal secretary to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair were present.

The meeting between Arjun and the Prime Minister comes after the HRD ministry sent a proposal to the PMO for constituting an oversight committee to draw up a time-bound road map for implementing the 27 per cent quota regime.

The terms of reference and the composition of the oversight committee would also have to get Manmohan’s nod. The task acquires urgency as the committee would have to submit its report by August 31 after looking into suggestions from academics and administrators. The government has decided to introduce the quota from June 2007.

Arjun said yesterday the quota would be implemented “in one go” and will be applied to the existing number of seats in all centrally aided educational institutes.

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