Communist Party of India-Marxist chief Sitaram Yechury has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concern over how the government's plan to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) with a new body would adversely affect higher education in India, like an "external enemy" destroying a country.
Opposing the government's proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Draft Bill, Yechury in the letter has asked Modi to hold wider consultations with all stakeholders rather than rushing the legislation to parliament.
"I am constrained to draw your attention to the draft legislation prepared by the Ministry of Human Resource Development for establishing the Higher Education Commission of India replacing the existing University Grants Commission which had been earlier established by the parliament of India.
"After carefully going through the provisions of the proposed bill we, from the Communist Party of India-Marxist, are compelled to come to the conclusion that if the bill is enacted in the present form and with the approach that its provisions suggest, it will have a major adverse impact on higher education in the country in general and public funded higher education in particular."
He said as it is often said, it does not require an external enemy to destroy a country. "Destruction of its education system is more than adequate to ensure that outcome. I am afraid that the present draft bill needs to be withdrawn to avert that eventuality."
The CPI (M) also released its note explaining why it was opposed to the move.
The NDA-II government, it alleged, has repeatedly targeted public-funded higher education and research in the last four years.
"Its hostility against the culture of democratic debates and rational social enquiry in premier universities by demonising and mobilising negative public opinion against sections of students and faculty, its authoritarian challenge to academic and intellectual autonomy, and its aggressive promotion of mythological beliefs and supremacist bias against scientific and historical facts constitute one dimension of this attack."
The CPI (M) said the other and "more systematic way" in which the government tried to bring higher educational institutions "down on their knees is by continuously slashing budgetary allocations to the UGC" and asking public-funded institutions to generate a part of their costs through internal resources and loans.
The government, it said, has drastically reduced seats and fellowships for M.Phil. and Ph.D. research programmes and promoted short-term contractual employment of faculty and administrative staff instead of permanent recruitment.
The CPI (M) said the government's educational reform is guided by twin concerns that threaten to destroy the foundations of higher education in independent India.
"These twin concerns are privatisation, and social exclusion. The twin agendas are strongly reflected in the draft bill" on the proposed legislation to be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament.
"The CPI-M will approach all secular, democratic parties, educationists, intellectuals, teaching fraternity, students and all other concerned individuals and organisations to build a broad resistance against this."