Calcutta, Feb. 22: The Bengal cabinet today approved a proposal allowing 5,000 government-aided secondary schools to convert to government-sponsored ones.
The switch would make the schools eligible for central grants of several crores and strike at the root of school managing committee elections that have several times sparked political violence.
The conversion would also mean that teachers of these schools, who could contest polls at all levels, would now become ineligible to do so as they would be viewed as government employees. Schoolteachers form one of the Left’s solid support groups.
“Teachers of government-sponsored schools are not allowed to contest elections as they are viewed as government employees,” said an official of the education department.
The move would impact teachers in government-aided schools who won’t be able to contest the rural polls, said officials of the school education department.
There are 12,500 government-aided schools, of which 5,000 have applied for conversion to government-sponsored status. “The remaining schools are in the process of applying, and in phases they would be converted. These 7,500-odd schools are to be approved for conversion at a cabinet meeting,” said a school education department official at Bikash Bhavan.
The school education department came up with the notification in November last year, seeking proposals for the conversion. What apparently propelled the state’s move was a Union human resource development ministry plan in October 2012 to aid government-sponsored schools in infrastructure building.
But the plan, under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Mission, had a rider — the funds would go only to sponsored schools that have government-nominated members in the managing committee.
In sponsored schools, the government can nominate anyone it deems fit for such committees, the highest decision-making bodies in the schools. No member is elected. Therefore, if the Trinamul government wants, it can appoint its loyalists to such committees.
In the case of aided schools, six guardians are elected to the committee and three are nominated each year. The guardians are often backed by different parties and there have been several reports of violence during polls. The nominated members are generally a local public representative, the headmaster and a non-teaching member.
An education official said: “The MHRD is of the view that since it will spend funds amounting to crores under the scheme, a committee with government nominees should be allowed to oversee the spending. Since state-aided schools have elected bodies, comprising external representatives such as parents, they are not eligible to get the grant.”
But an official at Writers’ said other reasons prompted the government to act on the plan. “We are used to seeing violence at many elections of managing committees as almost all candidates from among the guardians are backed by one party or another. The government thinks if the polls are scrapped, it would stop the violence,” the official said.
The All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA), the wing of the CPM which is the strongest organisation of its kind in the state, cast doubts on the government’s intentions. “Everybody knows this government likes to nominate people close to the party in decision-making bodies. This is happening at random in the college governing bodies. Now this will happen at managing committees of schools,” said ABTA leader Mrinmay Ray.
But a member of the Trinamul teachers’ cell said: “The ABTA perfected the art of pushing its men into the sponsored school managing committees when the Left was in power. So they don’t have the moral right to criticise us.”