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West Bengal government mulls panel to regulate private school fees

A retired judge is likely to head the commission

Subhankar Chowdhury | Published 07.06.22, 08:00 AM
The renewed move to meddle in private schools’ fees comes more than five years after a similar attempt.

The renewed move to meddle in private schools’ fees comes more than five years after a similar attempt.

Representational picture

The state government is planning to constitute a commission to look into complaints against private schools about fee hikes, said an official of the education department.

A retired judge is likely to head the commission.

Education minister Bratya Basu said at Bikash Bhavan on Monday:  “The idea of the commission is at a planning stage and the details would emerge in due course of time.”

The renewed move to meddle in private schools’ fees comes more than five years after a similar attempt.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had told the Assembly on March 3, 2017: “Now, I think there is a need to do something to control private schools. There are some private schools that are very good. But some of them charge so much in fees and donations. I think this needs to stop.”

The education department, then headed by Partha Chatterjee, had constituted a regulatory commission that held a few meetings with representatives of private schools.

The principal of a private school in south Kolkata said the government wants “to control all the affairs of private schools — be it summer vacation or the fee structure”. 

The state education department had on May 5 called principals of private schools for a meeting and said they should either switch to online classes or bring forward their summer break, in line with what the government had ordered for its schools.

“When we cited that following an improvement in weather, in-person classes were started in deference to wishes of the parents, we were curtly told to fall in line. The decision to constitute the commission reflects the same mindset,” said the principal who did not wish to be named.

“Too much control will destroy the standard of education,” said Sujoy Biswas, principal of Rammohan Mission High School.

Biswas said it was “unclear” to him why the government was planning a new commission instead of looking into the outcome of the regulatory commission. “Beyond holding some meetings with the private schools, the regulatory commission did not do much. When guardians enroll their sons or daughters in private schools, they make a decision after going through the fee structure. It is unclear to me why the government is thinking of yet another commission,” he said.

Supriyo Dhar, secretary of the La Martiniere schools, said the schools have an internal mechanism to deal with issues related to fees. He said he could not figure out “the logic” behind the government’s decision.

“Our website mentions our fees. The guardians go through them in detail before getting their child admitted. There are instances when we have waived fees following appeals from parents, citing some genuine resource constraints. The school has an internal mechanism in place to deal with these issues,” said Dhar.

This is not the first time private institutions are questioning the logic of the government’s attempt to intervene in what is essentially the schools’ business.

The Telegraph had reported on November 2, 2017, that Ashoke Biswas, bishop of the Calcutta diocese of the Church of North India, had wanted to be left out of Banerjee’s commission to regulate the functioning of private schools.

Biswas did not wish to be on the panel because of potential “legal complications” arising out of his participation in a regulatory commission set up by the government. Church sources had cited the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act that bars the government from interfering in the functioning of unaided, minority-run schools.

The La Martiniere schools, which had their representatives nominated to the panel, had decided against being on it for the same reason.

Last updated on 07.06.22, 08:12 AM
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