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May 22, 2006 at 08:52pm IST

2 knowledge panel members quit

New Delhi: Two members of the National Knowledge Commission resigned on Monday, saying reservation in premier educational institutions was against knowledge-based society.

Member-convenor of the commission, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and sociologist Andre Beteille had last week spoken against the proposal to implement a quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in Central colleges and universities.

Mehta, who is the president of the Centre for Policy Research, said the proposal is incompatible with the freedom and diversity of institutions.

The quota would politicise education and inject an "insidious poison" that will harm the nation's interests, he said.

A small group of ministers cannot decide what the national policy on reservations should be, he said.

Beteille, in his resignation letter, said the proposal was a cynical misrepresentation of the Constitution, which doesn't demand caste quotas.

Mehta and Beteille said they had quit the Commission whose views on reservation had come under attack from HRD Minister Arjun Singh.

"Many of the recent announcements made by the government with respect to Higher Education leads me to the conclusion that my continuation on the Commission will serve no useful purpose," Mehta said in a resignation letter addressed to the Prime Minister.

Last week, six of the commission's eight members decided in a meeting that the government should not implement the proposal and wanted a status quo.

Only two members, P M Bhargava and Jayati Ghosh, supported the quota.

Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh responded to this meeting by saying that the commission is unaware of the 93rd constitutional amendment on reservations.

Mehta denied this and said: "His (Arjun Singh's) entire explanation for reservation was the interests of the Congress party," Mehta wrote.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constituted the Commission in 2005 to "sharpen India's knowledge edge" and promote excellence in education.

The commission, which has is chaired by communication expert Sam Pitroda, advises the PM on how India can promote excellence to meet the knowledge challenges of the 21st century.

The commission also suggests how the Government's knowledge capabilities can be made more effective, making the government more transparent and accountable as a service provider to the citizen.

(With inputs from PTI)