West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee cracks the whip on private schools

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Kolkata: After promulgating a law to create a regulatory body for private hospitals earlier this year, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced a panel to oversee the functioning of private schools in the state.

The aim is to keep a watch on fees and internal financial controls of schools. In a town hall meeting on Tuesday, the chief minister hauled up representatives of several schools in Kolkata for charging “excessively high” fees. She said she had received complaints about several schools.

All schools in the state, regardless of board affiliation, will come under the oversight of this committee, which will be formed with representatives from schools as well as the state government. It will headed by the principal secretary of the school education department, Dushyant Nariala.

Representatives of at least 10 leading schools in Kolkata have been invited to join the panel, which will also have two representatives from the police.

Banerjee said she didn’t approve of schools raising their admission fee by 15% in a year, addressing the representative of a Kolkata school run by the Church of North India. She said such “alarming” fee hikes were completely beyond reason, and that an increase of around 5% could be justified.

Teachers in the state were impressed with the move though some said creating a committee comprising representatives from schools was not enough to address the problem.

Across the world, private enterprises are partnering the state for development of resources in the health and education sectors, said Suranjan Das, vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University. “However, private sector participation must be regulated for equity and justice,” he added.

Pankaj Kumar Roy, principal of Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri College under the University of Calcutta, said that the state should have gone a step further and specified a fee structure, instead of creating only an oversight committee.

A cabinet minister in the state said Banerjee didn’t immediately want to impose a regulatory mechanism for private schools because they are already under the oversight of different boards. The arrangement for oversight announced on Wednesday will be reviewed in a year and tighter controls may be recommended at that time, this person said, asking not to be identified.

Banerjee said many schools forced their students to buy books, stationery and uniform from within the school or appointed vendors. This, she said, was an unfair practice. Also, schools will have to create a website for themselves, and build within it an online grievance redress mechanism, Banerjee said.

Asked about the recently introduced law that makes teaching Bengali compulsory in all schools in the state till Class X, the chief minister said the state wants every student to learn Bengali. But that does not mean the state expects all students to sit for a board examination in Bengali, she added.