The issue is old — Christian missionary-run institutions fighting for minority status. But never before has such a showdown seemed possible.
More than 100 Christian missionary-run schools in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state have petitioned their leadership in Delhi to intervene on their behalf in their ongoing tussle with the Left Front government over the latter’s refusal to grant minority status to about 100 of these institutions and recognise the remaining 60-odd.
The Bangiya Christiya Pariseba representing Bengal churches, concerned at the government's attitude to this “problem”, has referred the matter to the All-India Christian Council in Delhi. “Secretary-general of the council Johan Dayal has promised to come down to Calcutta next week to take stock of the situation,” general secretary of the Bangiya Christiya Pariseba Herod Mullick said.
The demand for minority status — that will give special privileges to the institutions vis-à-vis government control over them — has been made for a long time by the 100-odd missionary-run schools. These institutions, because of the CPM-led government's refusal to grant them that status, are bound by the same set of rules that govern the recruitment of teachers, education policy and other internal matters as other government-aided schools, say state primary and secondary education department officers.
Also uncertain is the fate of the 60-odd schools that have been functioning for many years but have not yet been recognised by the government. Officers say their managements are not willing to accept any conditional recognition (the government wants them to pay their teachers the same scale as teachers of state-run institutions) and, hence, the impasse.
A senior departmental officer justified the government’s stand on the 100 more-reputed schools on the grounds that they continued to receive substantial financial aid from it. “The government has adopted a policy to refuse minority status to all schools which were set up after 1974 and continue to receive financial aid,” he explained.
But the truth, admit officers, is that the CPM-led government is loath to grant minority status to the schools for that would take the institutions out of the government’s control.
What has unnerved the school managements even more is the recent Supreme Court ruling that gives state governments a role to play even in minority institutions that accept government help. “We are consulting legal experts to prepare ourselves for any situation that may arise out of the verdict,” Mullick said.