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Nervous HRD ministry waves red flag as Niti Aayog panel stokes language row in Tamil Nadu

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Panel appointed by Niti Aayog after a review of autonomous bodies by the Department of Education wants merger of Classical Tamil Institute with national body.

Fearing that a government-appointed panel may just have breached the sensitive barriers of Tamil Nadu’s language politics, the Human Resource Development ministry has urgently stepped in to get the Centre to pull back on a recommendation to merge the Central Institute of Classical Tamil (CICT) with the Central Institute of Indian Languages in Mysuru.

The committee, which was set up by Niti Aayog after a review of autonomous bodies by the Department of Education, has recently submitted its first report, recommending mergers and reductions of 42 of the 114 bodies reviewed in the first phase. These 42 include the Central Institute of Classical Tamil, an autonomous institute that focuses on research on classical Tamil and its promotion at a global level.

Alarmed by fact that committee had overlooked the political consequences of such a move, the HRD ministry has rushed to red flag the issue, reliable sources confirmed to ThePrint. The CICT was hived off the HRD ministry’s language bureau after several demands from the state, and is now headed by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. It also happens to have a strong association with the DMK.

Tempers are already running in Tamil Nadu over the issue with a DMK legislator taking up the matter this week and alleging that the move was part of the BJP government’s agenda to assert the Centre’s supremacy over the Tamil language and identity. Tamil Nadu CM E. Palaniswamy has meanwhile maintained that he has not yet received any information on the same from the Centre.

Highly placed sources in the Finance ministry pointed out that some mergers could be put on hold provided these bodies are able to sustain themselves without government aid.

“The intention is very clear – not to wind up organisation but to achieve certain synergy by merging institutions performing similar functions so that the government’s financial liabilities are consolidated and suitably trimmed. If an organisation says it can sustain on its own and would not like to merge, that will be considered as well,” one official told ThePrint.

The HRD ministry is likely to also advise against the proposed merger of the National Council for Promotion of Sindhi Language with the Central Institute of Indian Languages.

The proposed merger of the Maharishi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan, Ujjain, with Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, Tirupati, has also struck the ministry as odd given that the former specialises in the oral tradition and has little in common with the Vidyapeeth.

While 679 autonomous bodies are spread across 68 ministries at present, a bulk of them, as many as 148, are under the HRD ministry’s Higher Education Department. Apart from the HRD Ministry, six other ministries that are faced with a similar situation.

The committee notes in its report, which has been accessed by ThePrint, that while there were just 35 autonomous bodies in 1955, the number has grown manifold over time with the Higher Education Department leading the tally with 148.

The origins of the move lie in the census of 679 autonomous bodies spread across 68 ministries under the Central government, conducted at the behest of the Department of Expenditure to cut government flab. In the first round, the committee has covered 114 organisations under seven ministries. Most of these bodies, according to the committee, were created between 1984 and 1989.


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