Bengal failed the test of organising its first Teacher Eligibility Test for four times as many candidates as in Madhyamik, poor logistics and lack of co-ordination between departments preventing many from reaching their exam centres.
In Barasat and Baruipur, two candidates fell off overcrowded trains and long snarls on police-starved roads stalled the march of 45 lakh candidates towards 6,500 exam centres across the state.
The chaos wasn’t entirely unexpected. Until the eve of the test, thousands among the 45 lakh candidates vying for 35,500 teaching vacancies in primary schools weren’t even aware of their designated exam centres.
So many candidates missed the exam for no fault of theirs that the state primary education board has been forced to seek legal opinion on holding another round of the test for them.
“The government will take a decision soon based on legal opinion. We have yet to determine the exact number of candidates who missed the test; we have sought lists from the districts,” said Manik Bhattacharya, president of the West Bengal Board of Primary Education.
While the scale of the exam was unprecedented — Madhyamik pales in comparison with 10.5 lakh examinees this year — the government’s lack of preparation seemed unpardonable. “The arrangements for an examination involving so many candidates were haphazard. There was little coordination among various departments and the examinees suffered as a result,” said a senior official of the education department.
The government put the blame on the railways, where Congress leader and Mamata Banerjee baiter Adhir Chowdhury is a junior minister.
State transport minister Madan Mitra said inadequate suburban trains led to the chaos. “If more trains were provided from Howrah and Sealdah, there wouldn’t have been any such problem. But any issue with the railways is not in our hands.”
Board president Bhattacharya parroted the minister’s line, even suggesting motive behind the “unprecedented delays” at level crossings.
Eastern Railway officials said the government never approached them for special trains. “We ran the trains on our own, following an almost weekday schedule instead of sticking to the Sunday routine. Had they warned us about the volume of examinees, we would have provided more trains,” a spokesperson for Eastern Railway said.
At many places, candidates blocked roads and rail tracks, compounding the chaos. The primary education board did extend the exam timings for candidates delayed by such factors, but most of the centres were not informed about it.
Metro highlights how the odds were stacked against the lakhs of candidates who had signed up for TET.
There weren’t enough vehicles to ferry 45 lakh candidates to and from their exam centres on a Sunday and the government didn’t think that was a problem until it was too late.
Sources in the education department said the transport department did not deploy extra buses to handle the rush. The arrangements were like any other Sunday, and that just wasn’t enough.
Ditto for local train services, which minister Chowdhury said could have been scaled up had there been a request from the primary education board.
Kaji Salauddin, a 27-year-old resident of Barasat in North 24-Parganas, had boarded a Hasnabad-Sealdah local to reach Kishore Bharati School in Dum Dum. He fell off the train after it left Bamangachi station. Salauddin was admitted to Barasat District Hospital with a fractured right arm and a head injury.
Rita Das, 23, from Sonarpur, was critically injured after she fell off the overcrowded Sealdah-Namkhana local, which she had boarded to reach her examination centre at Joynagar, in South 24-Parganas. She was unconscious when taken to Baruipur sub-divisional hospital and later to Chittaranjan National Medical College and Hospital.
Thousands of examinees were stranded at various stations, unable to board trains. They then blocked the tracks at Barasat and Baruipur stations. In Baruipur, a mob hurled stones at the Government Railway Police post.
“We are unable to board the train and administration is not taking any steps,” said Anupam Roy, who struggled to board a train at Barasat to reach his examination centre at Swarupnagar, in North 24-Parganas.
Buses with candidates perched on the roof were a common sight in the districts. “In Burdwan district, about 3,000 buses ply on a Sunday. Their number was the same today because the district administration didn’t request extra buses,” said an official of the Burdwan District Bus Association.
In Calcutta, Metro Railway had an 11am start instead of 2pm. Sources said till 5pm, 1.1 lakh people had availed themselves of the Metro, against the Sunday average of less than a lakh.