Education

In New Draft HRD Policy, Modi Government’s Casual Plagiarism Continues

Not only does the MHRD’s policy document reveal a lack of educational understanding, it also draws unreferenced ‘inspiration’ from various sources.

Former HRD minister and now textile minister Smriti Irani with current HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. Credit: PTI/Files

Former HRD minister and now textile minister Smriti Irani with current HRD minister Prakash Javadekar. Credit: PTI

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change was in the news for the wrong reasons last month. It was reported that the draft of the Environment Supplement Plan placed in the public domain for inviting comments and feedback, apart from proposing a dilution in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification in favour of violators of the law, had been hugely plagiarised from the Supplemental Environmental Projects Policy adopted by the US in March 2015.

Indeed, such was the force of the evidence and criticism that the ministry was forced to withdraw the said document.

It would seem that there’s at least one more ministry in the NDA government that is equally eager to walk down the same path of ignominy. That the document ‘Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016‘ released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development suffers from serious infirmities of educational understanding was not a totally unexpected feature. What is more troubling is the fact that the document seems to have been prepared by plagiarising, in a very casual and convenient manner, from different texts and documents. We present below some parts of the document along with the sections of the texts they seem to have been ‘inspired’ from. It needs to be emphasised that these observations are the serendipitous result of an exploratory exercise which we were engaged in while reading the draft and do not present a planned or exhaustive investigation to unearth plagiarism. Obviously, it is reasonable to suspect that a more systematic search in this regard may reveal still other examples of plagiarism.

Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016 Source documents
India has always accorded high importance to education. (p. 3) Education has always been accorded an honoured place in Indian society. (p. 12)
Kothari Commission, 1964-66, GoI
The Education System which was evolved first in ancient India is known as the Vedic system. (p. 3) The education system which was evolved first in ancient India is known as the Vedic system of education. (p. 1)
Module – 1, Progress of Education in Ancient Indian Education Review, M. A. (Education) Mumbai University
The ultimate aim of education in ancient India was not knowledge, as preparation for life in this world or for life beyond, but for complete realization of the self. (p. 3) The ultimate aim of education in ancient Indian was not knowledge as preparation for life in this world or for life beyond, but for complete realization of self… (p. 13)
Module – 1, Progress of Education in Ancient Indian Education Review, M. A. (Education) Mumbai University
the pupil was subjected to a rigid discipline and was under certain obligations towards his/her teacher. (p. 3) The pupil was subjected to a rigid discipline and was under certain obligations towards his teacher. (p. 26)
Module – 1, Progress of Education in Ancient Indian Education Review, M. A. (Education) Mumbai University
The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered diverse fields of learning covering science, astronomy, medicine, and logic as diligently as they applied themselves to metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga-shastra, the Veda, and the scriptures of Buddhism and foreign philosophy. Transcending ethnic and national boundaries, Nalanda University attracted pupils and scholars from China, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Persia, Turkey and other parts of the world. (p. 3) Students studied science, astronomy, medicine and logic as diligently as they applied themselves to metaphysics, philosophy, Samkhya, Yoga-shastra, the Veda, and the scriptures of Buddhism. They likewise studied foreign philosophy. No wonder, transcending ethnic and national boundaries, the university of Nalanda attracted pupils and scholars from Java, Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia, Turkey and other parts of the globe. (p. 3)
Tilak, 2016, On Rejuvenating Public Universities in India
Keeping in view special importance of Sanskrit to the growth and development of Indian languages and its unique contribution to the cultural unity of the country, facilities for teaching Sanskrit at the school and university stages will be offered on a more liberal scale. (p. 31) Considering the special importance of Sanskrit to the growth and development of Indian languages and its unique contribution to the cultural unity of the country, facilities for its teaching at the school and university stages should be offered on a more liberal scale. (p. 14)
Kothari Commission, 1964-66, GoI
Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is recognised and accepted as an important mode for achieving enhanced access, developing skills, capacity building, training, employability and life-long learning. It has contributed significantly to the development of education in India, with over 4 million students enrolled under ODL. There are several variants of providing distance education courses which are being offered by both public and private institutions. These provide avenues to those students who are not able to leave their jobs or are not able to attend regular classes due to any other reason. (p. 36) Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is recognised and accepted as an important mode for achieving enhanced access, developing skills, capacity building, training, employability, life-long education and continuing education. Open and Distance Learning has contributed significantly in development of education structure of India. It provides avenues to those students who are not able to leave their jobs or are not able to attend regular classes due to some reasons. (p. 11)
Report of the Working Group on Higher Education for the XII Five Year Plan.

It is telling that the very first sentence of the draft is a near reproduction of the ‘pious’ declaration of the opening sentence of the resolution issued by the government of India on the Kothari Commission Report (1964-66). This perhaps sets the tone for the rest of the draft. Thus, we have a recommendation in favour of Sanskrit which is worded in language completely borrowed from the Kothari Commission’s articulation on the matter. This is surprising in the sense that the Kothari Commission, whose report formed the basis of India’s first National Education Policy, is normally seen to be placed firmly within the discourse of the Nehruvian era. A liberal reading of a conservative text or a conservative reading into an erstwhile liberal discourse – it is for anyone to choose from!

What this mostly points towards is a tremendous lack of imagination and investment in the process of arriving at the national policy. Why couldn’t the vision go beyond the platitudes rehashed in every other ministry document? While the forever-used platitudes are sprinkled throughout, particularly in the sections purportedly addressing culture and values, there is some vigour with which the economic context of education is addressed. This limitation or strength perhaps may be attributed to the break evident in this draft as compared with previous major policy declarations on the relationship conceived between education and economic forces. Nevertheless, the language used to situate the aims of education firmly within the requirements of a private sector and global economy is itself clearly borrowed from the Ambani-Birla Report (A Policy Framework for Reforms in Education, 2000) and the Knowledge Commission Report (2006). In this sense the draft can be seen as an attempt to sanctify as a national policy the neo-liberal push in education which we have been witnessing for the last two decades and more. This perhaps is the glorious/dubious moment of reckoning of the ‘new right’ in India.

Why plagiarise?

It can be assumed that the authors of the draft were under pressure from the ministry to produce a document in too short a time. This draft was commissioned once the ministry, taking exception to the deliberate ‘leak’ of the report of the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee it had tasked to prepare the draft in the first place, decided to sort of disown it. (Though the 43 page draft replicates and echoes the 230 page Subramanian report in large measure.)

On the other hand, a less practical explanation of the patch work exhibited in the draft may derive from the apparent less than scholarly credentials of its authors. This would also be in line with the general disbelief exhibited by the government in the value of rigour and scholarship while making various appointments in academia and cultural institutions. A more particular exemplification of this trait was also visible in the setting up of the Subramanian committee too, which was not only chaired by a retired bureaucrat but whose three out of four other members also came from similar non-academic background.

The enormity of the lapse can be appreciated once we recall that it is the HRD ministry which is ultimately responsible, through bodies like the University Grants Commission, to frame and enforce appropriate legal and highest ethical norms in order to check plagiarism in academia. The fact that the draft is steeped in uncharitable comments on the competence of teachers and recommends control in the name of accountability makes it doubly ironical that it should itself fall prey to accusations of being an ethically compromised and, even worse, casually prepared document. Given this ethically challenged characteristic of the document, it becomes difficult to accept any claims of moral standing on the part of the ministry and take its laying of blame for all the ills of the school system upon its lowest functionary without a pinch of salt.

It is also pertinent to note in this context that the draft had been released only in English at first and it was only after some public criticism on this undemocratic and unconstitutional exercise that the ministry initially extended the deadline for submitting suggestions from July 31 to August 16, and thereafter to September 15. They finally brought out the draft in Hindi in the first week of August. This was followed by releasing the draft a few days later in nine other languages and in two more languages a couple of days thence. Strangely, while the draft has not been released in languages like Punjabi, Kashmiri and Nepali which are spoken by crores of Indians, the ministry has deemed it wise to expend from public resources (which the draft itself otherwise considers too scarce for either opening new higher education institutions or for sustaining schools declared ‘non-viable’) to release the document in Sanskrit, a language spoken by less than 15,000 people, according to the 2001 census figures.

The contents of the draft could not have left anyone in doubt about the lack of concern towards values of equality, democracy, scientific temper, intellectual freedom, social justice etc., for the contrary commitment towards the needs and the values of the market is made consistently explicit throughout its pages. Any remaining doubts in this regard are removed by this selective commitment towards producing the draft in English and Sanskrit in particular, which also reveals the bias of the HRD ministry in favour of languages and cultures tainted with exclusivism and entrenched hegemonies. Unfortunately, such biases within the arms of the government cannot remain innocent or harmless. They come at a great cost to the rights and well-being of the people from marginalised cultures and the working classes.

The ministry obviously needs to institute a rigorous mechanism to prepare its official reports and documents. While there is indeed a lot of merit in accessing and even using texts verbatim for their established disciplinary value, it is not unreasonable to expect in the ministry’s document a minimum acquaintance with the ethics and the academic practice of referring to works being quoted from and acknowledging the source of the inspiration. It could also do better by taking care to depute an academically more able and responsible team to work out the policy document next time and give it sufficient freedom in terms of both time and academic scope. Otherwise, its policy document will not only continue to falter at the altars of intellectual and ethical robustness but also fall short of India’s constitutional values.

The authors acknowledge Firoz Ahmad and Birender Singh Rawat for their critical comments and help in making this draft readable.

Manasi Thapliyal is an assistant professor at Ambedkar University, Delhi. Manoj K. Chahil is a PhD scholar at Department of Education, University of Delhi.

  • Arcay P

    When you lack vision and originality, copy them.