An hour with Kapil Sibal
Indian politicians generally do not score well when it comes to popularity among the youth. Among them, Mr. Kapil Sibal, Hon’ble Minister of Human Resources and Development and Communication and Information Technology, Govt. of India, scores exceptionally low, making him one of the most loathed Indian politicians in recent memory. Thus, his decision of having an interactive session with the students of IIT-Bombay was received with predictably mixed feelings of utter surprise and vengeful joy. This was the opportunity we were all looking for, after all. To take on the man who had dared to meddle with the entrance examination to our beloved institute!
What happened in the hour-long session is a different story.
The floor was left open for questions right after Sibal’s brief speech about his concern that we don’t pursue engineering after graduation, and a quick rebuttal by DoSA that such students do not get recognition.
The Q&A session started off with Mr. Sibal making it quite clear that he was more than willing to answer any tough questions raised by the audience. Before the representatives of the student community of IIT-B began asking their questions, Mr. Sibal quickly gave a message to the students of IIT-B and the student community at large. He made an appeal to the “crème de la crème of the country” to focus on contributing more towards societal progress and search for their passion rather than engaging in a blind search for money.
After this short appeal, the first question raised by a member of the audience targeted the issue of lack of quality education in the engineering colleges in the rest of the country. Mr. Sibal did agree to this problem and said that colleges of poor quality had sprung because of lax regulation at the state level. He made the government’s stand in solving this issue quite clear and highlighted two proposals of the centre which would solve the menace of the Inspector Raj in the education sector. But, his answers did tend to become a bit evasive and were aimed towards blaming the state for this poor quality rather than citing tangible steps taken by the central government.
The discussion then moved onto the point of scarcity of international students and faculty in India and the problems faced by them. Kapil Sibal’s blunt reply to this question came in the form of creation of world-class residential facilities in the IITs being the only solution. He urged the IITs to look into the Private Public Partnership model of creating residential infrastructure on the campus instead of relying on the outdated public works department system (PWD system).
Another round of questions ensued, with issues like the poor research scene in India to policies supporting women education being raised. These questions were met with replies leaving the students feeling short changed to some extent.
Towards the end of the session came the questions which everyone was waiting for. It started of with the policy of reservation being based on the lines of caste and not economic needs. The legal acumen of Kapil Sibal comfortably tackled this question. Mr. Sibal raised the point that reservation was a “constitutional prescription” and not an “executive decision”. He also made it quite clear that this was the interpretation of the SC and not his own. The issue ended on a rather funny note with Mr. Sibal inviting a student into politics to make him understand the compulsions faced by him.
One of the members of the audience raised another pertinent question directed towards the rush in policy decision to increase the number of seats when the infrastructure has not kept pace with this. He said that the government can’t wait for the infrastructure in the IITs to be set up for taking policy decisions because the demand for seats was only increasing. He pointed to the gloomy statistic of the percentage of people going to a college in India to support his statement and asked the student community here to think of the rest of the people of our country.
Mr. Sibal also confessed to having completely failed in eradicating the coaching industry and he held the IIT system responsible for it. Upon being asked the question of the single exam system, he reminded everyone that this was not his idea but was proposed by the leading scientists of the country after exhaustive testing and research. He also made it known that there was nothing special about the IITs for having a separate examination, when no higher ranked institutions across the world have such a system in place. With this question the nearly hour long Q&A session came to an end.
Undoubtedly, the session was a great initiative on the part of the Minister to bridge the communication gap between the decision makers and the student community. But, the answers didn’t quite satisfy the students who had expected unambiguous answers and not ones which tended towards shrugging away responsibility. Never the less, the students got a wonderful chance to ask their doubts directly to a minister, willing enough to answer them.
“The coaching system will stop only when you test a child for what he knows and not what he does not know.”
“I have completely failed in reducing coaching and the IIT system is responsible for that.”
“The crème de la crème of the country must have their feet on the ground.”
“In life, out of IIT, when you have a problem, solve it and don’t create one.”
Written By – Alankar Jain & Yash Tambawala
Note: Views expressed in the article are those of the writers and not of InsIghT in any way whatsoever.