Mayor Subrata Mukherjee on Sunday began to look around for private capital to underwrite the cost of the free primary schools run by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).
“These free primary schools run by the CMC have lost their relevance,” said mayor Mukherjee. “The quality of education in these schools is poor, though we spend lakhs every year to keep the schools going,” he added.
With the mayor’s approval, Moinul Haq Chowdhury, member of the mayor’s council overseeing primary education, has drawn up plans for infusing private capital into the ailing institutions to modernise them, with a view to attracting affluent students.
As a first step, the civic authorities are considering suspending admission to 239 CMC run-primary schools from the next academic year so that the targetted private providers of finance can have the requisite space to bring about the changes.
“Times have so sharply changed that the city can no longer afford to pick up the tabs of free schools,” said Chowdhury. “But it will be wrong to assume that we are rejecting the philosophy that guided their founding in the first place. In the changed situation, we are going to bring in an element of the market in the running of the schools.”
International funding agencies, like the Asian Development Bank (ADB), had said that the CMC is carrying out extra-constitutional responsibility by running free primary schools and it is eating up Rs 16 crore every year from the exchequer.
In the Nagar Palika Bill (74th Amendment to the Indian Constitution) education has been kept outside the jurisdiction of local self-government.
According to the new plans, nearly 158 primary school buildings will be used to set up money-spinning joint ventures in vocational training — fashion designing, call centres management, computer centres and Madhyamik schools.
The CMC will contribute the school buildings and plots to the joint venture, on the condition that tuition and other fees in these institutions will be less than the prevailing market rates.
Besides, the civic authorities will enjoy a command over a certain percentage of the seats in these institutions.
Contesting the Opposition CPM’s charge that the Trinamul Congress-BJP board was dismantling the legacy of civic free primary schools set up by Chittaranjan Das and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, mayor Mukherjee said he was “only trying to update” the CMC.
The mayor gave the assurance that not a single of the 700 teachers of these Corporation will be retrenched. They will be absorbed in other civic departments, he asserted.