Always in the news: 10 controversies surrounding Smriti Irani

  • Brajesh Kumar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 22, 2016 19:22 IST
Congress workers in Bhopal burn an effigy of HRD minister Smriti Irani to protest her comments on Rohith Vemula. Irani had said Vemula’s death was not related to caste. (Mujeeb Faruqui/ HT photo)

Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani is under fire for her handling of the University of Hyderabad issue where a Dalit research scholar committed suicide.

The issue has snowballed into a massive political controversy with critics alleging that the HRD ministry pushed for the Dalit students to be punished by sending five reminders to the university’s vice-chancellor after labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya complained to Irani’s department.h

Opposition parties and activists have also hit out at Irani for allegedly distorting facts in the case.

Here’s a look at other controversies the minister and her ministry has been embroiled in ever since she took charge in 2014.

Irani’s degree problem

The minister’s educational qualifications came under scrutiny immediately after she took charge in May 2014. While critics argued how could the country’s education portfolio be handed to a person who had not even gone to college, a case was filed against the minister over allegations that she made contradictory claims about her education in documents filed in different years with the Election Commission.

In her April 2004 affidavit to the EC Irani said she completed her BA in 1996 through a long-distance or correspondence program from the University of Delhi. In 2014, ahead of the general elections, she claimed she had completed a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the School of Open Learning, Delhi University.

Irani’s claim to have a degree from Yale University also was lampooned by her critics. The university later clarified that she had only attended a week-long programme, India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program, in 2013.

HRD Ministry orders judicial inquiry into Rohith Vemula’s suicide

Delhi University’s FYUP row

The rollback of the Delhi University’s four-year university programme in 2014, a year after it had been initiated on the order of the HRD minister, invited mixed reaction from the academics and students. While some hailed it as a great move, others called it an attempt by the Irani-led ministry to impose its decision on an autonomous institution that had taken the decision after following the due process.

IIT-Delhi director’s resignation

The resignation of IIT-Delhi director RK Shevgaonkar from his position in December 2014, two years prior to completion of his tenure, was attributed to the unnecessary intervention by Irani in the affairs of the premier technological institute. It was alleged that Irani had pressed upon Shevgaonkar to release the salary due of nearly Rs 70 lakh to former IIT-Delhi faculty and now BJP leader Subramanian Swamy for the period 1972 to 1991.

Irani denied there was any such a pressure from the ministry and alleged that Shevgaonkar resigned as he was faulted on account of setting up an “illegal” campus in Mauritius. An inquiry committee was also set up to investigate the charges against the IIT director, but nothing came out of it.

Nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar’s allegations

Nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned as the chairperson of IIT-Mumbai board in March last year alleging intervention from the HRD ministry in the selection of three IIT directors.

Irani allegedly questioned Kakodkar, who was a member of the selection committee, as to why he had called candidates outside the shortlisted ones for an interview. The nuclear scientist had then retorted that it was the prerogative of the search committee to invite such candidates if it found it necessary.

Rohith Vemula’s death not a matter of caste battle: Smriti Irani

Bureaucrats leaving HRD ministry

A number of bureaucrats in her ministry have left for their parent cadres or other ministries alleging her high-handed way of functioning. A lady IAS officer sought a transfer as she was publicly rebuked over her choice of room in the ministry, another allegedly left after the minister threw a file at him.

IIT-Madras’ ban on discussion forum

A controversy similar to the ongoing University of Hyderabad issue had erupted last year when a letter from Irani’s ministry to IIT-Madras had led to the ban of the Ambedkar Periyar group, a student’s discussion forum, that was critical of Prime Minister Modi.

The ministry had forwarded an anonymous letter to the institution asking why such forums were allowed in the campus.

Lal Salaam to Jai Bhim: Why Rohith Vemula left Indian Marxists

Good Governance Day controversy

Irani’s ministry was embroiled in yet another controversy in December 2014 when Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti asked all its schools to observe December 25 as ‘Good Governance Day’, which required the physical presence of students on a holiday.

The directive created an uproar as critics alleged that it was an attempt to disrupt the winter vacation and keep students forcibly in schools. Under attack, Irani clarified that it was voluntary and students who stayed back in the hostels could observe December 25 as good governance day.

German-Sanskrit row

The decision of the HRD ministry-run Kendriya Vidyalayas to replace German with Sanskrit as the third language in October 2014 created a furore and turned into a diplomatic issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel raising the matter with Prime Minister Modi when the two met at the G-20 summit in Brisbane on November that year.

IIM bill

The premier management schools raised an objection to HRD ministry’s move to include provisions in the IIM bill that could concentrate powers in the hands of the ministry. Facing heat, Irani’s ministry held several round of meetings with the IIMs and later decided to modify/delete the contentious clauses.

‘Separate’ canteens in IIT

Irani’s ministry also came under fire over reports that it had asked the IITs to explore the possibility of having separate eating space and mess for vegetarian students. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury wrote a letter to Irani saying the government has no right to “police” the food habit of students.

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