The Union cabinet has cleared a proposal for setting up the country’s first rail university aimed at building skilled human resources but no related ministry scrutinised the plan, raising eyebrows among academics and lawmakers.
According to the plan, the NRTU would be a deemed university under the de novo category in keeping with the University Grants Commission’s regulations. New institutions offering courses in innovative areas are given deemed status under this category.
For deemed university status, an institution needs to send a proposal to the HRD ministry, which forwards it to the UGC for its recommendations. But before the proposal was sent to the HRD ministry or the UGC, the PIB release claimed the “government is working towards completing all approvals by April 2018 and to launch the first academic program in July 2018”.
Official sources said the proposal to establish the National Rail and Transport University (NRTU) in Vadodara – a brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – was taken to the cabinet without inter-ministerial consultations between Ministry of Railways, Ministry of HRD.
“At times, top-secret proposals are taken to the cabinet by the ministry concerned without any consultation to avoid leakage. But any welfare measure is always discussed with related ministries,” a senior law ministry official said.
Several senior bureaucrats spoke to said that the inter-ministerial consultations enriched proposals, but the railway ministry decided against going by the usual practice. A cabinet meeting chaired by Modi had cleared the plan on December 20. A media release issued by the Press Information Bureau the same day said: “This innovative idea, inspired by the Prime Minister, will be a catalyst for transformation of rail and transport sector towards New India.” But it did not give any details.
Modi had in October 2016 announced the government’s intent to set up the university in Vadodara in his home state Gujarat.
K. Keshav Rao, a Rajya Saha MP and former member of a House committee on human resource development, said: “Any proposal for a university should be examined by the related ministries. It is a healthy convention.”
Official sources privy to the NRTU concept said the plan was to offer bachelor of engineering (BE) courses in railway engineering and such courses would be non-specialised programmes unlike specialised B.Tech courses.
This means, students may learn some aspects of civil, mechanical, electrical and signal engineering while doing the course.
An IIT Delhi teacher disapproved of the idea. “In IITs, every student has a specialisation even though they get a little bit of other branches. There must be a core discipline. Otherwise, the pass-outs may not be able to do the core job after recruitment,” he said.Two emails were sent to the PIB officer, who handles media queries related to the railways, on December 21 and 22. The officer was requested to confirm the information that the NRTU would offer non-specialised courses.
The railway ministry’s perspective was also sought regarding no prior consultations and concerns related to the course. Neither has replied so far.