THE CENTRE was forced to defer the passage of the Educational Tribunals Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday though the Lok Sabha had cleared it last week. Soon after human resources development minister Kapil Sibal introduced the proposed legislation for discussion, the Elders, cutting across party lines, raised serious objections.
Most of them said the Bill had been brought about in haste, ignoring the recommendations of a standing committee that had examined it.
An embarrassed Sibal had to make a retreat, not only because the government doesn’t command a majority in the Upper House but also since some Congress members, criticised the Bill’s provisions while “ supporting” it.
The Bill provides for establishing national and state tribunals for settling disputes involving teachers, employees and students of higher educational institutions, including over 500 universities. All higher educational institutions run by the government or private people, including over 26,000 colleges across the country, will come under its purview.
The members’ misgivings were on multiple counts. A prominent objection related to not earmarking the positions of the members on the tribunals for persons from the scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other backward classes categories. The national tribunal is proposed to have nine members and the state versions three members each.
Parliamentarians said only four states had consented to the proposal.
Sibal replied that the rest had not objected either.
The BJP strongly objected to minority institutions not being covered under the Bill’s general provisions, with a section specifying as much. The mood of the House was clearly for deferring it.
Sibal said it was an important legislation that was a precursor for taking up other Bills related to higher education. “ When we start on the course of reforms, such opinions are bound to come. No reform or legislation is perfect,” he said. The standing committee’s recommendations were to be incorporated in the rules for the proposed legislation, he added.
But Sibal’s assurance didn’t cut much ice and matters took a worse turn when he said the objections raised were not “ substantive”. The BJP members took strong objection.
“ We are not in a hurry. We are already too late. We are not taking away the jurisdiction of the states through this Bill. It is for the future of our children.
It is consistent with our requirements. It covers all institutions of higher education,” Sibal said.
But as MPs were unrelenting, he had to give up. “ In view of the sentiments of the House, I am deferring it till the next session of Parliament,” he said. It was not clear what made the BJP suddenly change its mind on the Bill as the party had supported it in the Lok Sabha with Sushma Swaraj in the lead.
Evidently, the private players in higher education are not in favour of the proposed law as it would subject them to the tribunals for adjudication of all kinds of disputes relating to them.
These private institutions include some high- profile deemed universities and the present government has objected to the manner in which they were granted clearance by its predecessor when Arjun Singh was the minister.
The Bill also covers hundreds of private colleges and other institutes which have been under attack for adopting unfair practices. BJP sources pointed out that the “ rethink” could be a result of the differences between two sections of the party led by two senior MPs.