The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Presidency freedom prey to polls

Calcutta, Feb. 13: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may have been keen, but his government has opted not to immediately seek autonomous status for Presidency College for fear of antagonising the CPM-dominated powerful teachers’ lobby so close to the Assembly polls.

“We will not seek autonomy for Presidency College until the government gets full support from the teaching community,” Satyasadhan Chakraborty, higher education minister, said in the Assembly today.

“There is a section of teachers which wants the issue of Presidency’s autonomy to be examined further. The decision will be taken only after we get full support of our teachers and education experts,” Chakraborty said.

The statement comes a week after the National Assessment and Accreditation Council strongly recommended during an inspection that Presidency be granted autonomy with immediate effect.

Education department officials said a decision was unlikely before the polls. However, after the elections, the government would have to make up its mind as the University Grants Commission’s aid of Rs 1 crore, which is part of the autonomy package, would lapse by March 2007.

“The chief minister may have a freer hand in taking a decision as the election compulsions would not be there,” an official said. “The possibility exists that the autonomous status may go Presidency’s way with possibly a new higher education minister in place.”

Party sources said neither the government nor the party wanted to antagonise the teachers as they formed an important part of the CPM’s election machinery. They are appointed polling and presiding officers and are even recruited for rectification of the voters’ list by the state election office.

On several occasions, most recently at a media interaction in November, Bhattacharjee has said he would like to see an autonomous Presidency. But the CPM-dominated, powerful West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association has been insisting that the “jewel in the crown” should not slip out of the grip of either the government or Calcutta University.

The association fears that if Presidency is granted autonomy, other government colleges like Brabourne, Bethune and Maulana Azad would follow in its path, slipping out of government, and political, control that is often exercised through the teachers’ body from the CPM headquarters at Alimuddin Street.

“Once autonomous, the colleges would be free to generate their own funds and frame their own rules and policies for recruitment of teachers,” an official said. “This is what the association does not want.”

It discussed the autonomy issue at a recent meeting. “The teachers have given an alternative proposal to the government. They want us to consider if Presidency could be developed as a university,” the minister said.

UGC has already expressed willingness to grant autonomy to Presidency. But the college has not applied in the absence of a government nod.

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