Calcutta, April 14: It was a war of words between two ministers looking after education, one in Bengal and the other in the country.
Union human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, who arrived here yesterday, came down heavily on the communist government in the state for its “faulty” education policy in a string of functions he attended in the city over the past two days.
In retaliation, state school education minister Kanti Biswas held a hurried news conference at the state Information Centre in the evening — a rare event on a public holiday.
Biswas said: “I am extremely hurt in the manner in which Murli Manohar Joshi has been making baseless allegations against innocent students of my state. It is not expected from a senior Union minister who himself is a veteran teacher. All his (Joshi’s) allegations are baseless and vindictive.”
A visibly perturbed Biswas added that he would soon write to the Centre complaining about Joshi’s “attempts to malign” the Left Front government. “My government will take up the matter seriously,” he said.
At a function in a city college, Joshi had cited examples to explain the “deteriorating standard of education in West Bengal”. The Union minister alleged that he had information that students in many state-funded schools had very poor knowledge of English as well as basic historical facts.
Making a scathing attack on Joshi for his remark, Biswas said: “Does Joshi have the courage to tell me what is the source of his information. I being the education minister of this state have every right to know the source.”
To counter Joshi, Biswas pointed at “glaring mistakes” in the history and geography textbooks published by the Centre-controlled National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
Biswas claimed that a chapter on major religions of India in a Class VI history book published by the NCERT had no mention of Islam. “I am sure the students of my state have a far sound knowledge on such basic facts than Joshi,” he said.
He rubbished the Union minister’s charge that the dropout rate among schoolchildren in the state was the highest. “A survey by the World Bank has confirmed that the standard of education in Bengal is far better than in any other state,” said Biswas.
CPM convert held
A zilla parishad candidate who had switched allegiance from the CPM to the Trinamul Congress months ago was arrested in Canning in South 24-Parganas today on charges of a murder committed four years ago.
A police team picked up Manik Paik from his house at Tambuldah village early today. After daybreak, the news of the arrest spread and Trinamul workers gheraoed the police station demanding Paik’s release.
The zilla parishad candidate had crossed over to Trinamul seven months ago. Party MLA Gobinda Naskar saw CPM hands behind the arrest of Paik, who wielded considerable influence in the area. Police said they were on the lookout for him since the 1999 murder.