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EDITORIALS

Two years for killing six!
Nanda gets away lightly; it’s a shock
T
he manner in which the Delhi High Court has reduced the jail term for Sanjeev Nanda, grandson of former Naval Chief Admiral S.M. Nanda, from five years to two years for mowing down six persons in his BMW car in New Delhi’s Lodhi Road area 10 years ago is unfortunate. Justice Kailash Gambhir has seriously erred in diluting Nanda’s crime and reducing punishment.

Terror syndicate
US needs to put pressure on Pakistan
I
nterestingly, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that there is a “syndicate of terrorism” in Pakistan and the US expects Islamabad to tackle the menace at all levels. This is, perhaps, for the first time that a senior US leader has admitted that Al-Qaida , the Taliban and many other Pakistan-based terrorist outfits are inter-connected in a way that is “troubling” the US.


EARLIER STORIES

Sharif’s triumph
July 20, 2009
Bringing out the best
July 19, 2009
No to wheat exports
July 18, 2009
Dealing with terror
July 17, 2009
Letting Hafiz Saeed free
July 16, 2009
Murder and acquittal
July 15, 2009
Mishap shakes Delhi Metro
July 14, 2009
Focus on food security
July 13, 2009
Blueprint for growth
July 12, 2009
In the dark
July 11, 2009
Zardari speaks
July 10, 2009


Punish the khaps
Haryana govt is not acting tough
T
he khap panchayats of Haryana are becoming belligerent with each passing day. Their harassment of couples and their families who challenge traditional conventions seems to know no bounds. The violent and nasty turn that the gotra row in Dharana village of Jhajjar district has taken is a case in point. Time and again khaps have shown their disdain for individual rights and have passed edicts infringing upon individual freedom and choice.
ARTICLE

Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Opportunity for India
Develop skill or perish
by Lt-Gen S.S. Mehta (retd)
M
ore than 50 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25. If we assume that this population is uniformly distributed across all ages, then 40 per cent is in the age group of 16-25. Assuming a total population of a billion people, we are then talking about 200 million people who are in, or about to enter, the job market. We know that about 10 per cent will go on to college, leaving us with 180 million people. 

MIDDLE

The intellectual trickster
by Shelley Walia
F
or decades people have seen through their affected behaviour. Dishevelled hair, creased trousers, a crumpled shirt and ragged footwear over unwashed feet, all premeditated to mislead. They thrive especially with us when we are young and regard their knowledge intense.

OPED

One small step for man, one giant retreat from mankind
First footprint on moon
by Paul Farhi
F
orty years ago on Monday, Neil Armstrong became the most famous man on the planet by talking a short walk off of it. Since then he’s tried to live with that fact, and also live it down.

Delhi Durbar
English a red rag to Samajwadi bull
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has taken upon himself the task of promoting mother tongue Hindi and getting others to patronise it too. He loses his cool the moment he hears colleagues speak in a “foreign language” in the Lok Sabha.



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Two years for killing six!
Nanda gets away lightly; it’s a shock

The manner in which the Delhi High Court has reduced the jail term for Sanjeev Nanda, grandson of former Naval Chief Admiral S.M. Nanda, from five years to two years for mowing down six persons in his BMW car in New Delhi’s Lodhi Road area 10 years ago is unfortunate. Justice Kailash Gambhir has seriously erred in diluting Nanda’s crime and reducing punishment. It is a miscarriage of justice because the court has not appreciated the grounds on which the trial court had given Nanda a higher jail term.

The case will now be under Section 304 A of the Indian Penal Code (causing death by rash and negligent act that carries a two-year jail term) instead of Section 304 II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years).

This was not merely a hit-and-run case. Witness after witness turned hostile during the trial. And at one stage, to the nation’s shock, the “BMW” was described as a “truck” that ran over the victims. The High Court sentenced top criminal lawyers R.K. Anand and I.U. Khan for obstructing justice and criminal contempt of court.

But both were barred from practising in the High Court and its subordinate courts for barely four months and fined Rs 2,000 each. A TV sting operation had caught Anand, in collusion with Khan, offering money to Sanjay Kulkarni, the key witness to depose in favour of Nanda, the prime accused.

Justice Gambhir has rightly directed perjury proceedings against Kulkarni. However, Nanda’s punishment should not have been diluted. If culprits like him, because of their clout, are allowed to get away in this manner, it will have a deleterious impact on the system and society at large. Hostile witnesses have become a big threat to the criminal justice system.

A comprehensive witness protection programme, as recommended by the Law Commission of India, brooks no delay. Protecting every witness may become a gigantic task, but it is worth trying in the interest of fair dispensation of justice. The courts at every level must be vigilant against the nefarious activities of those who try to vitiate the trial.

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Terror syndicate
US needs to put pressure on Pakistan

Interestingly, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that there is a “syndicate of terrorism” in Pakistan and the US expects Islamabad to tackle the menace at all levels. This is, perhaps, for the first time that a senior US leader has admitted that Al-Qaida , the Taliban and many other Pakistan-based terrorist outfits are inter-connected in a way that is “troubling” the US.

So far the US has been focussed on the fight against Al-Qaida and the Taliban, allowing Pakistan to adopt a kid-glove approach towards other terrorist outfits like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which have been working against India. What Ms Clinton has said amounts to accepting India’s stand that the fight against terrorism cannot bring about the desired result unless all the terrorist groups in Pakistan are made dysfunctional.

Some time ago Pakistan President Asif Zardari made a statement which showed that Islamabad had come to realise that terrorist outfits must be eliminated to bring peace to Pakistan as well as the rest of the world. He also admitted that these “assets” were created by Pakistan as part of its policy, but today they had turned against their creator also.

Ms Clinton appears to be making the same point. But all this cannot impress India so long as all those involved in the Mumbai attack are not brought to book and terrorist violence comes to an end.

Ms Clinton is right when she says that “Terrorism anywhere is a threat everywhere” and that “it is not one country’s responsibility, but everybody’s responsibility” to fight it to the finish. But terrorism has its umbilical chord in Pakistan and, therefore, there is a need for the US to put pressure on Islamabad to deal with militants as harshly as possible. At stake is peace on the subcontinent.

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Punish the khaps
Haryana govt is not acting tough

The khap panchayats of Haryana are becoming belligerent with each passing day. Their harassment of couples and their families who challenge traditional conventions seems to know no bounds. The violent and nasty turn that the gotra row in Dharana village of Jhajjar district has taken is a case in point. Time and again khaps have shown their disdain for individual rights and have passed edicts infringing upon individual freedom and choice.

Now, they have openly confronted the police deputed to protect the family of the couple “indicted” and hounded by them for violating the gotra norms. Their unruly action once more underlines that they care two hoots about the law of the land. The situation must not be tolerated by the Haryana government which has given the impression that the khaps can get away with this direct challenge to law with impunity.

The khap edicts have invariably played havoc with the lives of young couples. Their intransigent stance has extracted a heavy price — life too — from the young lovers who dared to defy their regressive code of gotra and caste norms. Even otherwise, khaps make unreasonable demands that often work against the weaker sections of society, particularly the fairer sex.

The state government cannot be a mute spectator and must act firmly to deal with the members of the Kadian Barha khap panchayat who are seeking forcible ouster of the couple’s family. While doors cannot be closed on an amicable solution to the problem, individuals cannot be made to succumb to intimidation of a set of people who have arrogated to themselves the authority of law.

Exemplary punishment for those responsible for intimidating the couple will deter other so-called khaps from violating the law of the land. Khap panchayats have no legal standing and cannot be allowed to function as a parallel judicial system.

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Thought for the Day

I brought myself down. I gave them a sword. And they struck it in. — Richard Nixon

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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Opportunity for India
Develop skill or perish
by Lt-Gen S.S. Mehta (retd)

More than 50 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25. If we assume that this population is uniformly distributed across all ages, then 40 per cent is in the age group of 16-25. Assuming a total population of a billion people, we are then talking about 200 million people who are in, or about to enter, the job market. We know that about 10 per cent will go on to college, leaving us with 180 million people. 

These are the people who can form our army of skilled labour; those whose productivity will make sustainable growth feasible; the people whose improved income earning abilities will fuel the domestic demand that has been so far nurturing our growth. In other words, herein lies the future of India.

The problem is not only one of training them; it is also that once they are trained, others must know about it. In particular, the potential employers should be able to judge the veracity of the training process. The fact that we can move to various parts of the country to find the job that we want means that our section of the Indian labour market is an integrated one. We need the same for our skilled labour.

The HRD Minister has talked about a national exam --- an entrance test to all colleges. In the US, for instance, all graduating from school and wanting to get into a college sit for the SAT (scholastic aptitude test). This allows students from any part of the country to be uniformly tested for colleges in all parts of the country. The HRD Minister wants something similar for India.

This is an excellent initiative. However, we cannot stop at organising something for what is necessary for 10 per cent or, just for the 20 million below the age of 25 who will go on to college!

We need the same for the remaining 90 per cent or the 180 million people who will not get into college. Recall what the NIIT has done for the IT sector.

A study by the Population Reference Bureau, a private think tank, indicates that several developed countries will see a drop in their population over the next 50 years. Japan will lose 20 per cent of its population. Russia’s will drop by 17 per cent. About 44 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in the countries where fertility is at or below replacement levels.

As these economies see their workforce depleting due to superannuation; they will find numbers difficult to replace. Second, a huge inadequacy of skilled workers in the Indian economy presents an opportunity for productive employment of a sizeable number of our citizens. Third, as the world sees less and less growth opportunities in developed countries, investors and enterprises are keen to enter global developing markets that hold the promise of growth and higher return. As capital formation occurs, there would be a greater demand for skilled workers meeting international standards of quality and productivity.

The question that now arises is: what preparations do we need to undertake to capitalise on these opportunities? Quite simply, we need our manpower skilled to the standards that are nationally and globally benchmarked. This would help resolve the problem of unemployment domestically and at the same time remittances from our workforce abroad could ensure a better standard of living for people back home.

It enhances the image of the Indian workforce globally and encourages investment flowing inwards, thereby putting the multiplier into action, generating more jobs and encouraging further development. If we do not act with a sense of urgency, others would seize the initiative and in many ways shut this window of opportunity for India.

The downside of not investing in human capital and ignoring skill development on a countrywide scale can be catastrophic. First, the unemployment and underemployment figures are reaching an alarming proportion. This generates a significant amount of negative sentiments among the victims of this socio-economic inequity. These push them towards anti-social activities, and they could join the rank of terrorists, separatists and criminals, thus engineering socio-political instability.

Second, with societal needs comprising manufacturing, services and agriculture not being met, and as other economies meet the skills requirements of their industries, the handicap is going to hurt our industry even more and adversely undermine our competitiveness.

Third, as we have seen in some cases among the BPO/ITES, if the requisite skills are not available in the country, foreign establishments not willing to compromise on quality are likely to take flight and look for other countries to establish their operations. Apart from all this, there is the real problem of rural-urban migration.

A preliminary inquiry tells us that we need a skilled workforce in almost all sectors. In the construction sector alone, we need to skill in scaffolding, masonry, fencing, tiling, painting and finishing, plumbing, carpentry, building, sanitation, water, ready mix cement, facilities management and back-up support.

Skills should be benchmarked to national and, where possible, international standards. The system should provide for mobility and re-skilling opportunities as individuals gain in experience and expertise, and seek value addition for improvement in their prospects.

There are four challenges that need to be addressed. The first is availability of infrastructure: this can be resolved by bringing in “off hour” usage of the existing training and academic institutions, and most importantly, through redundancies that exist in the corporate sector.

The second is benchmarking. The skills must be nationally and globally benchmarked, and the content should be attuned to changes that take care of the variability that local conditions bring into the picture. This could be done by involving occupational experts from industry, academic experts with experience and the method of designing and delivering cutting-edge syllabi and assessments.

The third is quality assurance. The structure should include teams of visiting verifiers, quality inspectors, trainers to discharge training programmers and specially trained and qualified teams of independent assessors, who certify to benchmarked standards.

The fourth is the cost of training. These courses should be highly affordable. Besides, such training could be subsidised by development institutions, employers and philanthropic organisations, and be part of the corporate social responsibility programme.

There is enough room, requirement and opportunity for each of us to contribute.

There are some who talk about public/private participation. Hand over the ITIs to private sector managements and things will work out. It will not; we have too few ITIs and we have been trying to make this work for quite some time now. The fruits of such effort, if at all, are quite small compared to what must be done. The government has already taken a bold and new initiative with the unique identification exercise by bringing in a successful private sector entrepreneur and manager and put funds at his disposal with a clear mandate of what he must do. One needs a similar initiative in generating skill. Not a wishy-washy attempt of creating joint management teams where each can point to the other for inaction. Choose a successful entrepreneur, put money in his, or her, hands and give that person a simple objective of generating a skilled and employable workforce.n

The writer is a former GOC-in-C, Western Command.

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The intellectual trickster
by Shelley Walia

For decades people have seen through their affected behaviour. Dishevelled hair, creased trousers, a crumpled shirt and ragged footwear over unwashed feet, all premeditated to mislead. They thrive especially with us when we are young and regard their knowledge intense.

Later in life, we begin to see through them. Like adolescents in an array of costumes mouthing speeches and ideas they’ve memorised and passionately believe but only half grasp or value, they strut along nonchalantly through a life of simulation rattling off empty sentences, implying nothing.

I remember one such con artist who would write an occasional piece. The sheer incoherence and the twisted syntax boggled us all. The pattern was to allow the article to move between colleagues and have it edited and modified beyond recognition. Apparently his hodgepodge knowledge was likewise scavenged over conversations. He had supposedly pieced together a book, but to this date, the jacket is the only confirmation.

Recently, I came across one of these species in action. The charlatan attempted bewildering the audience, endeavoured to be profound and sometimes comic but it all fell flat. He took the cake when he overpowered the floor, refusing to allow the discussants to respond.

And when a few made some meaningful interventions, he discourteously waved them off. Was he settling some old scores, or is it that he had not grown up the least bit?

I remember his unthinking response to the question of the coalescence of poetry and politics. It was suggested that poetry does not make anything happen except that it remains inherently an act of survival in the face of a calamity. As Auden would write, ‘Follow Poet, Follow right/ To the bottom of the night,/ With your unconstraining voice/ Still persuade us to rejoice.’

By rejoicing, the poet creates a mood of imaginative triumph that is his rejoinder to the nightmare of history. To write well is to testify to human magnitude where the role of the imagination becomes the human value pitched against all that is brutal and heartless. It was argued that tragedy metamorphoses into celebration through the act of imagination and if imagination survives art lives to tell the tale.

At this point, our worthy ‘intellectual’ abruptly swept the observation aside with the wave of his hand and an inane comment as shoddily constructed as his haywire mind. While the audience chuckled he thought he had made a mark.

His incomplete face covered by the mask of a hard and serious intellectual swiftly came alive in all its deceit and superficiality. And as I amusingly looked on at the scene before me, I only saw him running to and fro between different roles of a teacher, an intellectual, a friend, tripping in all, losing his balance and falling as a human being.

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One small step for man, one giant retreat from mankind
First footprint on moon
by Paul Farhi

Forty years ago on Monday, Neil Armstrong became the most famous man on the planet by talking a short walk off of it. Since then he’s tried to live with that fact, and also live it down.

Only rarely — on major anniversary dates, like Monday’s — does he show up on television, and then only fleetingly. He hasn’t leveraged his fame for higher office or some grand cause, nor has he sold it willy-nilly.

If the subject is Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon tends to turn churlish. He will defer, deflect or refuse to answer. When his little home town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, sought to honor him with a parade on the 25th anniversary of his moonwalk, Armstrong sent his regrets. He once pleaded to a newspaper reporter, 10 years after his feat: “How long must it take before I can cease to be known as a spaceman?”

As if such a thing were possible. Or even desirable.

It’s not fair to call Armstrong a “recluse,” as many accounts of his life after Apollo 11 invariably have. He’s no cosmic J.D. Salinger or Howard Hughes, shunning the world out of spite or madness. Armstrong makes the occasional public appearance and speech, as he did Sunday at the Smithsonian and as he will do again Monday at NASA’s official commemoration of the moon landing. He’s also appeared in two NASA video productions over the past five years.

What’s more, after resisting would-be biographers for years, he finally caved to his family’s prodding and sat for more than 50 hours of interviews with Auburn University historian James Hansen for a 2005 biography, “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.”

Yet for the 40th anniversary, Armstrong has once again carefully rationed himself. He told planners at the Smithsonian and NASA that he would speak at their events, but not as the keynoter, not at length and only in conjunction with other Apollo alumni. A book-signing at the Air and Space Museum featuring his Apollo 11 crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, was out of the question (Armstrong stopped signing anything some years ago when brokers began peddling bogus signatures on the Internet). Media interviews? Not a chance. “He’s always been this way,” says one person involved in planning the events.

Carol Armstrong says her husband averages about 10 interview requests per month. He turns them all down, usually without reply (he did not respond to a request for this article). “I think he thinks it’s all been said before,” Carol says from their home near Cincinnati. A decade ago, when The Post sought an interview, Armstrong e-mailed his regrets, adding with Garbo-like brevity: “I am comfortable with my level of public discourse.”

Those who know Armstrong say his behavior has been consistent over the arc of his 78 years. Even before the world insisted on lionizing him, he was his own man, faithful to his standards: Reject personal glory. Avoid focusing on the self. Keep what’s private private. Until Hansen revealed it, some of Armstrong’s closest working associates never knew that the Armstrong and his first wife, Janet, had a 2-year-old daughter who died of a brain tumor a few years before Armstrong went into space.

“Neil has a very strict sense of what’s appropriate to be involved in, and has since he was a boy,” says Hansen, a former NASA historian who spent nearly three years corresponding with Armstrong before winning his cooperation on the book. Armstrong has such a hard time speaking about himself in the first person, Hansen says, that “he felt he couldn’t write an autobiography or a memoir.”

Adds Hansen: “Neil was very much the same person after Apollo 11 as he was before it. The pragmatism, the modesty, the shyness were there from an early age. I don’t see any radical changes in (him) throughout his life.”

In his limited public utterances, Armstrong has always turned the subject away from himself. He usually deflects credit to the 400,000 people who built and maintained the vehicles and managed the bureaucracy that enabled him and Aldrin to reach the moon.

Someone once described Aldrin and Armstrong as “amiable strangers,” but Hansen says that’s inaccurate. “I’m not even sure `amiable’ is the right word. Neil did not appreciate how (Aldrin) went off in such strong, aggressive ways with his ideas. They worked well together, but I’m not sure there was much personal rapport. Buzz never figured Neil out.” From time to time, Hansen says, Aldrin would contact him and ask for help to persuade Armstrong to attend some event — a reflection, Hansen says, of the astronauts’ uneasy relationship.

Hansen says Armstrong’s reticence may have been reinforced by the example of Charles Lindbergh, another 20th-century pioneer who knew much about the soul-twisting powers of fame. The two men met in 1968, and Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were Armstrong’s guests for the Apollo 11 launch. They corresponded until Charles Lindbergh’s death in 1974.

A solitary country boy who dreamed of flying, Armstrong grew into a skilled Navy combat pilot (he flew 78 missions in the Korean War), an engineer and a test pilot who flew the experimental X-15 rocket plane to the edge of outer space. As a pilot and astronaut, his unflappable calm was more than a personality trait; it was a survival skill.

On his first space mission, in 1966, Armstrong docked Gemini 8 with a second vehicle, but the craft immediately fell into a continuous, stomach-churning roll. Armstrong fired the vehicle’s reentry controls, aborting the mission but saving the spacecraft, himself and pilot David Scott.

Armstrong is retired now, and he and his wife — he divorced and remarried in 1994 — spend most of their time at leisure, playing golf, traveling, skiing in Colorado during the winter.

In reflection, Armstrong has confided in colleagues that he never wanted to be defined by Apollo 11, and by the few hours he spent walking in moondust. Though he is wary of offending NASA, he said as much publicly, in a rare TV appearance in 2005, to promote Hansen’s book on “60 Minutes”: “We’d all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work.”

This seems understandable as a personal matter, but odd — and impossible — as a matter of history. The first man on the moon doesn’t feel his life is defined by being the first man on the moon? As if the world would remember much more than Armstrong’s “one piece of fireworks”? Would his name belong beside Magellan’s or Marco Polo’s if not for Armstrong’s singular achievement?

Hansen can’t help agreeing with those who believe Armstrong could have been a more forceful advocate for space exploration, that his reserve was damning. By being reticent he created mystery, and hence a vacuum that was filled with “craziness” — such as a long-standing rumor in the Muslim world that Armstrong converted to Islam after hearing the call to prayer on the moon. Not true. But “because of Neil’s personality, he’s his own worst enemy,” Hansen says. “People want to project all kinds of things on him.”

Enigmas can be like that.

The other view is that Armstrong was as heroic after his return to Earth as he was on his journey beyond it. In a culture that crushes and disfigures the famous, Armstrong was Olympian in his discipline and humility, never tarnishing the grand moment that fate handed him. The ultimate professional, he did what was asked of him, and then went home, spurning the laurels.

Indeed, maybe Armstrong knows more than anyone alive about fame and its limitations, that it is cheap, wearying and filled with constant, jangling pressures. What kind of ego requires that?

And who needs it — especially if, like Neil Armstrong, your legacy will never be challenged and your name will live on long after you have departed this Earth?

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
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Delhi Durbar
English a red rag to Samajwadi bull

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has taken upon himself the task of promoting mother tongue Hindi and getting others to patronise it too. He loses his cool the moment he hears colleagues speak in a “foreign language” in the Lok Sabha.

Last week during question hour Mulayam interrupted Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who was replying in English to the SP chief’s query. “Aapko Hindi nahi aati kya? Hindi mein boliye (Please speak in English),” said Mulayam, ensuring Jairam delivered.

But the UP leader was not so lucky with BJP leader Maneka Gandhi, who posed a supplementary question to Jairam, in English. Soon as Mulayam screamed at Maneka in the House, asking her to speak in Hindi, she retorted with an equal force: “Mulayamji, I shall speak in the language I want to…”

Pompous ministers

A prominent parliamentarian has listed three ministers in this UPA-II government who are clueless about what is happening and thrive mostly on pomposity. He has identified them as External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Chemicals and Fertilisers minister M.K. Azhagiri and Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily.

He explained how Krishna won’t speak a word (in Parlliament) till his officers sitting in the officials’ gallery sent him a chit. He just reads out those chits.

Azhagiri, he disclosed, has not faced Parliament yet. Whenever his ministry’s turn is there for question-answers, he flies off to Chennai. Moily pretends he knows a lot, but this MP feels Moily talks in the air on most subjects without applying his mind.

Perhaps, realising the potential of his Foreign Minister, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken charge of foreign affairs himself as was evident in the talks with Pakistan and later his statement in Parliament.

Fleecing students

Aggrieved medical and engineering students rush to the Supreme Court every year at the time of admissions and this year is no different. Students who fail to get admission despite doing well in entrance examinations approach the court daily.

As the number of cases from various states has kept rising, the Chief Justice of India has observed that states and private colleges seem to be hand in glove in fleecing students. In one such case from Madhya Pradesh, it turned out that all those involved — three colleges, the state government and the apex court — were at fault to some extent.

In a verdict, the SC has ruled that the states and the colleges should share the seats equally and set a deadline for completing the process. But the colleges filled all the seats without leaving any for the state. The reason: the state did not provide its list of candidates by the SC deadline.

Now, the SC has decided to allow the colleges to take more students, provided they have adequate infrastructure and this would involve relaxing its earlier verdict.

Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and R Sedhuraman

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