New Delhi, Apr 27: HRD Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday made a strong defence of controversial decisions like scrapping of the FYUP and asking IITs to seek her ministry's advise on MoUs, as she rejected the charge of saffronisation, saying her government was bound by the Constitution.
Reeling out statistics to drive home her point that spending in education during the Narendra Modi government is more than the previous UPA regime, she attacked the opposition for accusing her of appointing Hindutva scholars to academic bodies, saying many of them are associated with the Left and Congress as well. [I am a hard nut to crack: Smriti Irani]
Irani's combative response came during a debate on Demands for Grants for the HRD Ministry, in which she singled out Sugata Bose (TMC), drawing sharp reaction from his party members who demanded an apology which was outrightly rejected by her. [HRD Ministry breather to deemed universities]
Taking on Bose and Sushmita Dev (Cong) for their claims of appointing people with 'saffron' ideology to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), she said scholars like Purabi Roy, associated with CPI, and Sacchidananda Sahai, a close associate of Congress leader Santosh Mohan Dev, too were appointed to the body.
Irani said the ministry intervened in Delhi University's decision to introduce a four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) as the 40-odd courses were not sanctioned by the President.
"The programme would have produced 77,000 students (each year) with degrees without any worth. Had they been on the streets, were we ready to meet that situation? ... If I have protected their future, why are they hurt," she asked, taking a dig at leaders of some opposition leaders.
On the charge of saffronisation of education, she said her government was committed to spreading education "within the limits prescribed by the Constitution".
"The Prime Minister had given this assurance. I am repeating it on the floor of the House," she said.
Referring to Shashi Tharoor's (Cong) claims that funds have remained unspent in the ministry, she said while in 2013-14, the utilisation was 92.9 per cent, it had increased to 97.69 per cent in 2014-15.
Responding to charges that government was interfering with MoUs being signed by institutions like IITs, she wondered why the UPA government was silent when the Delhi IIT had signed an agreement to open a campus in Mauritius using "taxpayers' money." She only went by the law passed by Parliament, she said.
Irani's Trinamool Congress members vehemently protested Irani's jibes at Bose and demanded that she express regret for pointing her finger at him during her reply which, Saugata Roy (TMC) said, was "just not acceptable".
Irani rejected the demand and said "aspersions were made, doubts cast and snide remarks" made against her and "there is no question of apology".
Terming her reply as "combative and aggressive", Roy said it was due to the pressure she was facing within her party. Bose said he was not treated in such a manner earlier and added that he in his speech had only pointed out that the HRD ministry should have shown a "modicum of respect" for noted experts, referring to the reported resignation of nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar as the head of Board of Governors of IIT Mumbai.
He was reportedly persuaded to stay on. She accused Bose, a well-known historian, of "misleading" the House by referring to Kakodkar's resignation saying he was very much working.
Responding to the demands of several members, she said she will try to increase Kendriya Vidyala admission "coupons" for MPs from the present six to ten.
Irani said for the first time a government has sought to get a response from the grassroots on the type of education people want. She said the proposed National Education Policy will incorporate views from across the board.
Her ministry has also decided to launch 'Kala Utsav' across the country which will showcase local culture. The ministry also plans to give scholarships to 10,000 under-graduates in the North East states, she said.