By Anil Swarup
The author is former secretary, Government of India
When I was posted as the Coal Secretary on promotion, I didn’t know much about coal, except that the sector had been riddled with scams. I asked a friend of mine how the sector was? He replied, asking me a counter-question, “Have you seen Gangs of Wasseypur?” This question answered my question. I had seen the film that was replete with violence on account of the mafias that ran the coal sector. By God’s grace, and on account of the fabulous team I had, the sector was, by and large, sorted out in a couple of years. The mafias became, by and large, irrelevant on account of unprecedented increase in coal production.
The government was apparently looking for the most “uneducated” civil servant to head the Department of School Education and Literacy. I had no experience in the education sector, but perhaps my experience in handling the mafias clinched the issue.
However, there was a difference. Whereas in the coal sector, mining was underground and the mafias were overground, in the field of education all the mafias were underground. Also, they are much more insidious, eating into the essentials of the country. Fortunately, like all the mafias, they were not in majority, but played a dominant role in decision-making. They are extremely well-connected and deeply entrenched.
Let us look at some of the mafias that afflict the education sector in our country:
1. Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed);
2. Examination centres;
3. Publishing; and
4. Private schools.
w B.Ed and D.El.Ed: There are around 16,000 B.Ed and D.El.Ed colleges in the country. A large number of them exist only in name. If you pay them well, you can get a degree without an effort. It was rumoured that if you pay them more, they could even arrange for a ‘naukri’ (government job). The action was initiated by the then chairman of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), an upright officer, by way of issuance of notices to all the colleges to furnish the details of their existence on affidavits. The idea was to ensure that only those that existed got recognition, and in case of wrong information, they could be prosecuted. It worked initially, but the colleges realised that quite a few of them could be in trouble. So, despite the support the gentleman got from the top politicians, even from most of the states, he was put under enormous pressure by the mafias; and they took the “judicial” route to pin down the chairman. He had to ultimately quit.
w Examination centres: In a few northern states of the country, a number of examination centres are given on “theka” (contract) for copying. These centres are highly “priced”, as they facilitate mass-copying. The current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has come down heavily on this mafia. But, on the previous occasion, this was only done by the then chief minister Kalyan Singh in 1991; thereafter, no chief minister could dare to rein-in the education sector mafias for so many years. Consequent to the steps taken in Uttar Pradesh during the last examinations, more than 10 lakh students chose not to appear for examinations. It is a reflection of “addiction” to mass-copying.
w Publishing: This sector thrives on the education sector. There are deeply-entrenched vested interests that want the status quo to continue, as these benefit them. It happens at two levels. As respective governments provide free books to the students, there are various ways in which “money is made”. The “mandatory cuts” in getting the books printed centrally constitutes a substantial portion. The initiative taken by the Uttar Pradesh government during the current year and the consequent savings thereunder lends credence to this allegation. Interestingly, the government of Bihar is toying with the idea of direct benefits transfer, recognising the “dealings” inherent in central printing and distribution.
The other level of “money making” is by a handful of private publishers who enter into an “arrangement” with private schools in the name of quality, and compel the students to buy almost 4-5 times more expensive books as compared to those published by the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training). If all the students of around 20,000 CBSE-affiliated schools were to source NCERT books, there would be an estimated annual expenditure of around `650 crore. As compared to this, if they source books from private publishers, it would cost around `3,000 crore per annum. The difference is simply too huge to justify the quality argument. The NCERT did a wonderful job during the current academic year to ensure that books are made available on time, so that the students are not compelled to buy expensive books, but this effort will need to continue. The NCERT will always be under pressure from vested interests to be “inefficient”.
w Private schools: There is no doubt that most of the private schools are contributing enormously towards imparting quality education. However, some of them are bringing a bad name to this segment. There are some extremely powerful individuals who are able to get away with blue murder. They violate various norms, legal and ethical, with impunity because having been part of the official machinery at some point in time they know the tricks of the trade. Irrational hiking of fees, charging huge sums of money to “lend” their brand, and harassing the brand assignees are some of the many tricks they practise. The chairperson of the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) who chose to take them on was shown the door. His successor, Anita Karwal, one of the finest civil servants, was also set to be “sacrificed”. But she held her ground despite all the pressure. The good news is coming yet again from Uttar Pradesh, where the state has enacted a law on fee regulation after consulting all the stakeholders. The legislation has been welcomed by all and, hopefully, other states will follow suit.