Friday, January 2, 2015

A Ministry in Shambles

Over six months after the Narendra Modi-led BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections, and after a proper Cabinet expansion, it seems fair to gauge the performance of some key ministries. In doing so, one ministry in particular comes out as a complete and utter disaster: the HRD Ministry headed by first-time minister Smriti Irani, who has been quite the weak link of this government. It's not just that the media had it in for her, she herself has allowed many errors to come in that significantly deviate from the PM's vision of "minimum government, maximum governance."

The most recent and probably most serious case is the spat with the Director of IIT Delhi regarding the IITRA Mauritius that IITD was setting up, on instruction from the former HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and fully-funded by the Govt of Mauritius, as an external research center that IITD would nurture, as so many foreign institutions nurtured the oldest IITs before. There was no irregularity in this - the MoU was fully vetted by the HRD Ministry including Sibal's successor Pallam Raju, and amended several times with hardly any say from the IIT D Director. And yet, the Ministry has now heaped blame on the Director while washing its own hands clean - ironically of nothing, as nothing wrong was done here.

The problem here is very clear - Minister Smriti Irani is weak and ineffective. One would've hoped that PM Modi would've done to her what he did to just about every minister i.e., reduce them to a figurehead and implement his vision directly. After all, people voted for Modi, not for his party, by and large. More than half of the BJP's 282 MPs owe it to Modi for their victory. People want Modi's vision, not the vision of stuck-up bureaucrats in the HRD Ministry. Unfortunately, Modi has given Irani over to the RSS, who look into so-called cultural issues, and the bureaucrats who look at technicalities. The Minister herself has become a post-office of sorts, merely clearing files and chairing meetings.

In the present case, the problem is clearly with the bureaucrats in the HRDM, who do not understand the first thing about research. Rules from another era, which have successfully ensured that we have a large set of well-funded second-rate institutions that do no service to India or the larger scientific community, are rigidly enforced and any academician looking to break that, like the IITD Director, are quickly shown the door and maligned to boot to keep the media quiet. If Modi really thinks Indians working as academics abroad can come back to India, he needs to give these bureaucrats a piece of his mind and work to amend these archaic rules.

Research calls for collaboration and diversification, faculty and students moving between institutions, countries and even continents for research is the norm in established research centers across the world, but the HRD Ministry insists all of these do not fit into its rules and, instead of amending them to make them more relevant, punishes those who try to make good with what is available. There are only two solutions here - either Modi take over this Ministry as he did with so many others (and fight it out with the RSS in the process) or fire Minister Irani and appoint someone more competent to deal with the massive bureaucracy. As of now, the HRDM is an utter failure. 

No comments: