No ‘outsiders’ in Delhi

Like Gandhi's India, it must keep its thousand windows open.

Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia's pronouncement on the state of higher education in the National Capital Territory of Delhi was a controversy waiting to happen. Not that all is well with this aspect of life in Delhi. We have witnessed, year after year, the panic of parents and wards — victims of the mismatch between demand and supply — each time the dreaded admission season approaches. Aspirants to colleges of some repute living in torment of the ever-ascending cut-offs is painfully familiar.

If, as the education minister laments, of the 2.65 lakh students who graduate from schools in Delhi only 90,000 manage to get into Delhi colleges and the remaining 1.75 lakh fall by the wayside, it is admittedly not a happy, or acceptable, state of affairs. The magnitude of the problem is amplified by the compulsion to demonstrate a change for the better almost overnight, especially in a context of long-suppressed but newly awakened expectations. Reservation is a palliative, not an antidote.

The proposal to reserve 90 per cent of the seats for Delhi residents in DU colleges which are "fully funded by the government" cannot be claimed to be a huge leap, in quantitative terms, for the young people of Delhi. Only about 12 institutions — a small percentage of the total number of colleges in Delhi — belong to this category. The government intends to start new colleges as well as enhance the delivery of education. Sisodia does not appear to be seeing this single step as an alternative to addressing the grievances that crowd the ground. The proposed reservation, a relic from the previous Congress government, is more a means to mollify than to remedy.

The "sons of the soil" concept, which underlies this proposal, is nothing new. The dissonance that the minister's approach provokes in certain quarters stems, perhaps, largely from the dual status of Delhi, which is not only a Union Territory but also the nation's capital. It is therefore meant to be a kaleidoscope of the variety and diversity of India, a vignette of its unity-in-diversity. Who are the residents who pay for the educational facilities in Delhi, assuredly superior to what most other cities afford? Are they not — in their tens and thousands — people who have moved in from the four corners of the country and made Delhi their home?

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