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Rethink on school control

Calcutta, April 13: One rash step forward, two steps back. That’s what the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is mulling on its recent move to control the recruitment of teachers in Christian missionary schools.

Faced with a flood of petitions and protests, from schools in the Darjeeling hills in the north to those in south Bengal, the government is all set to retrace the step. The protests have come in from school authorities, guardians, students as well as sections of common people who see the government’s move as an attempt to interfere with the schools’ autonomy.

They also apprehend that the government’s interference with the choice of teachers will dilute the academic standards of these schools. At a protest rally earlier this month, Lucas Sircar, archbishop of Calcutta, urged the church leaders to persuade the government “at any cost” to withdraw the School Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2006.

The controversial bill is now awaiting the governor’s assent. Government sources hinted that if re-elected to power, the Left Front would bring another amendment to the act to repeal the proposed legislation.

Embarrassed by the public outcry over the bill, the government now admits that the move was ill-advised. The code of conduct for the elections prevents it from making any conciliatory gestures or promises to the church leaders or the authorities of these schools. But the indications are that it is anxious to repair the damage at the earliest opportunity.

It now appears that the school education minister, Kanti Biswas, had acted almost on his own to push the bill. Although the issue had been “mentioned” in the cabinet, it did not involve any serious discussion either in the government or in the Left Front.

Biswas defended the bill, saying the school service commission had to be involved in the recruitment of teachers in these schools because they accepted the government’s financial aid.

The new thinking in the government is that this is not a valid justification for the government’s interference with the schools’ freedom to choose teachers.

It would be a better idea, it is now being argued in official circles, to restrict the government’s role to auditing the funds the schools receive from it. This approach would take care of two things simultaneously ' ensure that public money is not misused and allow the institutions to retain their autonomy.

Biswas, who has not been nominated for the coming election, will not be a part of the new government that will assume charge, provided the Front wins.

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