1. We nod, you talk, govt tells UGC
UGC chairperson Ved Prakash was reprimanded by the HRD ministry for speaking out against the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) before Parliament’s standing committee on May 26. Prakash had criticised the flagship programme in which state governments playing “middlemen” interfered with money reaching institutions directly. The next day a stern warning was issued to him for contradicting the government’s position, commanding him to speak only in unison with the government’s policy in interactions with Parliamentary bodies and taking prior permission lest he choses to differ. Censorship is clearly no longer a threat restricted to the film industry.
2. Thirteen is an odd number for women VCs in India
India and Britain still maintain ties of convention when it comes to ‘their women’. It has been one whole century since the first wave of feminism that demanded equal representation of women in public spaces, yet Oxford took more than 800 years to appoint its first woman Vice Chancellor. India too maintains a stellar record: a UGC survey reveals that only 3%, that is 13 of India’s 431 universities, have woman VCs. This, when every year girls outdo boys and women constitute more than 50% of teaching posts in universities. According to a British council commissioned report titled ‘Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia‘, the culture of discrimination, such as glass ceilings and fears of over promotion, could be held responsible for this imbalance.
3. Hot research topic- Ancient India
The Indian Council on Historical Research, now headed by a Modi appointee, will soon begin research on ‘new approaches to writing ancient history’, while conducting research on ancient Sanskrit texts, and revisiting the Aryan immigration theory. The Council is setting up a sub-committee to study these proposals, which it hopes can be undertaken within two years. Under the new government we have seen several references to the ways of ancient India and the technologies present then, pointing to the increased interest in this region of study.
4. Er, so what’s wrong with IIT-Mauritius MoU?
The Ministry of External Affairs has sought a clarification from the Human Resources Development Ministry on why it considers “invalid” the MoU between IIT-Delhi and the Mauritius Research Council for setting up a research academy in Mauritius. In the wake of the controversial resignation of IIT-Delhi director K Shevgaonkar, HRD ministry officials had defended themselves by accusing Shevgaonkar of violating rules and cited the “invalid” MoU as an example.
5. Disney plays Scrooge, triggers immigration debate
Disney’s decision to replace 250 American workers with Indian H1-B temporary work visa holders brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India has ushered a fresh debate in the US over immigration reform. Questions are being raised about how business and outsourcing companies are using H1-B visas to place immigrants in technology jobs in the US to the disadvantage of American workers. According to federal guidelines, the visas are intended to fill vacant spaces requiring advanced scientific or computer skills when no American with the same skill set is found. However, due to legal loopholes, companies often misuse the visa to recruit immigrants for less money. Indians seeking to buy into the American Dream, beware!
6. Expert Panel to review controversial GDP series
Continued criticism of the new GDP series that is compiled using manufacturing data will now be reviewed by an official expert panel. The series has generated controversy because the growth in manufacturing recorded in it is at variance with other statistics. For example, the latest data of 2014-15 shows a discrepancy between the claim of manufacturing growing by 8.4% in January-March when the Index of Industrial Production reflects only 3.6% growth in the same period. Chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian and RBI governor Raghuram Rajan have also expressed their puzzlement at the new series GDP data.
7. Why you should worry about India’s forest cover
The government has announced a massive plantation drive to take forest cover from the present 24% to 33% in the next 5 years. However, the plan is hollow for it lacks the force of technical know how on the species to be planted and the upkeep of saplings, which constitute the essence of forestry. Scientists argue that plantations are not true forests, and according to the Environment Impact Assessment Resources and Reponse Centre, they cannot compensate for India’s average daily forest loss of at least 184 football pitches. Most importantly, plantations cannot provide the same ecosystem services as an old growth forest, so “when the last of India’s forest corridors vanish, so will the wildlife.” Forests at present are vulnerable because they are also reserves of precious minerals such as coal. But corridors linking eight tiger reserves in central India stand to be impacted in varying degrees if mining companies get their way.
8. In U-turn, third panel to review Uttarakhand dams
The environment ministry has now constituted a third expert panel to review hydropower projects in Uttarakhand. This is after it had submitted an affidavit in court stating that the existing body, which included four scientists, would take the final call on the dams. The new panel has been created by removing some of the non-official members who had criticised the projects. Experts have warned that going ahead could lead to a situation like the 2013 tragedy in the state. Undeterred, the government has ignored all previous studies and reports to constitute the new panel.
9. Divided loyalty at DD but I&B’s the boss
The government had on 29 May appointed Veena Jain as the Director-General of Doordarshan News without informing the Prasar Bharati Corporation, in violation of Prasar Bharati’s autonomy. In the face of criticism, a new order now says Jain shall be accountable to Prasar Bharati as the Director General of DD News. But the new order also appoints Jain as an Officer on Special Duty, thus ensuring that she reports to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry too.
10. Nitish join hands with Kejriwal
The controversial posting of Bihar police personnel to the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Delhi, which is opposed by the Modi government, has brought Nitish Kumar and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal together in their fight against the Centre. The Bihar CM has come out with a statement saying the deputation of personnel was not unusual, and that states must help each other to work against corruption. Kejriwal, in response, said that he was grateful for the support from the Bihar government. He also said that he had requested other states for personnel too, after first sending a request to the Delhi Police itself, which is under the control of the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung.
11. Yes you can: United finally apologizes for Islamophobia
While on a US domestic flight, Tahera Ahmed was denied an unopened can of soda, the attendant arguing that she could use it as a weapon. After a Facebook post highlighting this blatant Islamophobia went viral, United Airlines has now apologized. The airplane was being operated by Shuttle America on behalf of United, and United stated that the attendant was not one of their employees, but apologized, as Ahmed was their customer. The Facebook post said that while the incident took place, none of the other passengers stood up for Ahmed, with some actually making anti-Muslim comments.