Public interest litigation sometimes tries to create strange bedfellows. The Union human resource development ministry, usually happy with having its fingers in a number of regulatory pies, is planning to surprise everybody by being unwilling to regulate yet another burgeoning phenomenon in higher education in India. The Students Federation of India — students’ wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — has filed a PIL against unauthorized private coaching institutions in the country, which are extorting a great deal of money from gullible students and their guardians, making false claims about what might be expected of them, and not delivering on these claims. The apex court has asked the government to clarify its position on this matter and the extent to which the Centre would want to get involved in regulating and monitoring this virtually unorganized sector with the intention of protecting students. Very sensibly, the Centre wishes to keep out of this terrain altogether, making an important distinction between private, preparatory coaching or tuition and institutionalized education for a degree, diploma or certificate.
To approve of the Union ministry keeping out of this sector in private ‘education’ is not to endorse the latter in any way, but to support the non-intervention of the State in choices and decisions that should be made independently, privately and freely by individual consumers. Of course, the State can help in creating aware and proactive consumers who are able to take the right action against those who deceive them with false advertising or inadequate standards. But getting into monitoring and regulating the mushrooming coaching ‘industry’ all over the country would be an impossible task for the government, and an absolute waste of its time and resources. Ungovernable numbers resulting in unbridled competition lead students to take desperate recourse to these courses, and the only way to disempower these para-educational institutions is to solidly improve the standards, range and accessibility of the official facilities afforded by the proper institutions of education. If teaching, the availability of books and other facilities are good enough, and rigorous enough, then dependence on outside help will automatically become less, bringing down the attendant evils.