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Buddha firm on college freedom

Calcutta, Feb. 14: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said he would “personally intervene” to ensure Presidency College became an autonomous institution, emphasising his intention to keep centres of educational excellence away from politics.

Yesterday, higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty had informed the Assembly that the government would not seek autonomy for Presidency College until it received “full support from the teaching community”, which, he said, was divided.

But today, in the presence of Chakraborty, Bhattacharjee told the House he wished to clarify that despite the reservations of a section of teachers, he felt it his duty to make the college an autonomous institution.

The powerful CPM-dominated West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association has been insisting that Presidency not be allowed to slip out of the grip of the government. It fears that Presidency will set a precedent for other government colleges which, too, would press for autonomy and escape political control that is often exercised through the teachers’ body from the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street.

Bhattacharjee said the higher education minister had informed him about the opposition from a section of teachers. “Some teachers do not want this to happen. But I will have to take up this issue. Presidency has to be granted autonomy and made a centre of excellence. Bimal Jalan (as governor of the Reserve Bank of India) has already granted Rs 4 crore to Presidency for this purpose.”

The University Grants Commission has already expressed willingness to bestow autonomy on Presidency, which will give it access to central funding of Rs 1 crore a year, but the college has not applied in the absence of a government nod.

It is public knowledge that the chief minister has serious differences with Chakraborty. By making the announcement in the Assembly only a day after Chakraborty said autonomy was on hold, Bhattacharjee is also emphasising that lack of agreement.

However, it is quite possible that the chief minister will wait until the Assembly elections are over before nudging the autonomy process ahead because of the influence of the teachers’ lobby.

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