NEW DELHI: Smriti Irani, India's 31st and second woman HRD minister, set the ball rolling even before she entered Shastri Bhavan. In a long meeting with two secretaries - Ashok Thakur and Rajrishi Bhattacharya - Irani said she wanted all appointments to be put on hold for a fortnight. 

Irani was told about the impending appointment of chairpersons of Indian Council of Historical Research and National Council of Rural Institutes. 

When she finally arrived at the ministry in a golden sari, Irani thanked PM Narendra Modi for giving her the "responsibility of such a big ministry that was once headed by Murli Manohar Joshi". 

Irani said her first priority would be to look for ways to enhance public spending on education to 6% from the present 3.8% of GDP. She said setting up national e-library and a central university of Himalayan technology would also be her priority. She avoided controversy and remained non-committal about continuous and comprehensive evaluation. Irani said all her decisions would be through consensus. 

In her meeting with top officials, Irani wanted detailed notes on various schemes run by the ministry, for instance Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid-Day Meal, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan. The new minister wanted to know about auditing of various schemes of school education. 

Irani also wanted a list of committees and institutions headed by the HRD minister. ICHR has been without a chairperson for the past few months after Basudeb Chatterji's term got over. The selection process for appointment of new chairperson is about to start. In case of Hyderabad-based NCRI, the HRD ministry is under court order to appoint a new chairperson by June 2. In fact, one of the first things the ministry wants Irani to clear is the new NCRI chairperson. 

Appointment of V-Cs of 12 central universities is already at an advanced stage. It remains to be seen if the new minister scraps the process. Former HRD minister MM Joshi had recently asked the President to review the process. 

After a brief meeting with officials, Irani went to attend the first meeting of the new Cabinet and returned to her Shastri Bhavan office. She took a meeting of senior officials up to the level of joint secretary where presentations were made and priority areas discussed. Irani also wanted separate presentations of educational status of each state. "This is the first time that state-specific presentation has been asked," a source said. 
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