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Bengal refuses Gujarat lesson

- Delhi prod to adopt RTE model rejected

Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal has snubbed a suggestion by Delhi to follow the method devised by Narendra Modi’s Gujarat to redress complaints under the Right to Education Act in three to 30 days.

“We cannot adopt the Gujarat model as the administrative set-up in Bengal is totally different from that of Gujarat. We are trying to craft a mechanism where the time limit would be two months,” Suhas Chatterjee, registrar of the Right to Education Protection Authority, said.

The Trinamul government has written back to the Union ministry of human resource development, saying it would prefer to devise its own method of redressing complaints about violation of the landmark legislation that guarantees free and quality elementary education to all children aged 6 to 14.

The RTE also bars corporal punishment and donations and screening tests for admission. All schools, barring minority-run institutions, are required to reserve one-fourth of their seats for economically underprivileged students. Neither government-aided nor financially independent schools can refuse to admit students throughout the year.

Section 32 of the act states that state governments should settle all complaints within three months, a stipulation Bengal has done little to honour other than setting up the Right to Education Protection Authority.

In contrast, the Gujarat model specifies the time needed to redress complaints under each provision of the act.

Grievances pertaining to corporal punishment are to be redressed within three working days from the date of receiving the complaint. Complaints about violation of the 25 per cent reservation for underprivileged students are meant to be redressed within a fortnight, as are those regarding screening tests, capitation fee and gender discrimination.

The maximum limit of 30 days is for redress of grievances regarding infrastructure, teachers not fulfilling their duties and failure to maintain the recommended student-teacher ratio of 30:1.

The outgoing UPA government had written to all states a couple of months ago, showcasing the Gujarat model as the best practice. At least 10 state governments, including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi, have since adopted the system, a source in the West Bengal Sarva Siksha Mission said.

The state school education department informed the Union human resource development ministry last month about its wish to follow a different path, citing differences in the administrative framework.

The RTE Act stipulates that state governments draft policies based on the guidelines incorporated in the legislation and provide clear, concise details about how students and guardians can approach the administration and how long it would take for a grievance to be redressed.

“For instance, the government must specify where a complaint about corporal punishment can be filed, how long the complainant has to wait for a response from the relevant authority, what to do if the complaint is not taken up and what happens next,” an education official said.

The Right to Education Act, 2009, took effect at the start of the 2013-14 academic session. On May 6 this year, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the state could impose admissions on private unaided schools, except minority-run ones, if the purpose was to provide free and compulsory education to children from six to 14.

Two days later, Metro highlighted how most private English-medium schools in Calcutta reserve a quarter of their seats for underprivileged students but find few takers for want of awareness and parents’ insecurity about approaching these institutions.