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2 Jun 2017

Cloud on school panel ambit

Mita Mukherjee and Jhinuk Mazumdar, TT, June 1: A day after chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced the formation of a self-regulatory commission for private schools in Bengal, several educational institutes complained about lack of clarity on the panel's powers.
Many private schools today wondered whether a body comprising members of 10 private institutions could at all be empowered to regulate their fee structures.
At a meeting with representatives of private schools in Town Hall yesterday, the chief minister had said the self-regulatory commission would see to it that private institutions do not charge donation for admission, keep the annual tuition fee hike reasonable, examine the balance sheets of institutes facing allegations of financial irregularities and look into grievances.
The 15-member panel will comprise a representative each of La Martiniere schools, Loreto schools, Modern High School for Girls, St. Xavier's Collegiate School, The Heritage School, DPS Ruby Park, Shri Shikshayatan School, St. Lawrence High School, Young Horizons School and South Point School.
The other five members are the archbishop of Calcutta, bishop of the Calcutta Diocese of the Church of North India, school education secretary, director-general of police and the commissioner of Calcutta police.
The chief minister had in February, at a meeting with private hospitals in Town Hall, announced that a commission would be set up to look into complaints against private health-care units.
Representatives of several schools Metro spoke to today raised questions about the functioning of the self-regulatory commission.
• Will the commission have the power to take action against errant schools?
• Can the commission interfere in the administration of Christian missionary schools, which enjoy the freedom under Article 30 of the Constitution to run their institutions independently?
• How can the commission fix the fees of minority schools, which are empowered by the Supreme Court to fix their fees?
• Are non-minority private schools bound to implement the fee structure finalised by the commission?
In regard to the West Bengal Health Regulatory Commission, Mamata had said the panel would have the power to take action against private hospitals. It has been clarified that the panel would forward all complaints against doctors to the state medical council.
"We have no idea about the powers and jurisdiction of the self-regulatory commission for private schools," Most Reverend Thomas D'Souza, Archbishop of Calcutta.
"The minority schools enjoy the freedom to fix their own fees. We don't know how the commission will deal with this issue. We also don't know whether a commission having representatives of only some schools can interfere in the affairs of other institutions. The powers and jurisdiction of the commission should be defined clearly. This will also enable the commission to function in a systematic way. But we appreciate the chief minister's move as it aims to create a consciousness that private schools should not charge donations and not pressurise parents to pay fees under certain heads that are not required."
The archbishop, a member of the commission, heads the founder bodies of all schools in the city run by the Roman Catholic Church. St. Xavier's Collegiate, Don Bosco, the Loreto, St. Lawrence, St. Anthony and Loyola High schools are some of the institutions run by the church.
Reverend Ashoke Biswas, the bishop of Calcutta and a member of the commission, is the chairman of the governing boards of all schools under the Calcutta diocese of the Church of North India (CNI).
La Martiniere, St. James, Pratt Memorial and Diocesan schools are some of the institutions run by the CNI.
"The bishop can seek the balance sheets from a CNI school as chairman of the institution but not as a member of the commission," an official of a CNI institution said.
"The balance sheets are provided to the income tax department. The commission can collect the documents from the department if they want. It can't be binding on the schools to show their balance sheets to the commission," an official of a renowned private school said.
Several non-missionary private schools, which do not enjoy the protection granted by Article 30 of the Constitution, said they were "confused", too.
"Only some big schools have been included in the regulatory commission. The fees charged by them are much higher than what neighbourhood private schools take. There is a huge gap between the kind of facilities offered by the big schools and the rest. So, why should some big schools be allowed to determine the fess of the lesser known ones?" asked Nabarun De, principal of Central Modern School and general secretary of Association of Heads of ICSE schools.
Heritage, DPS, South Point, Birla High, Mahadevi Birla, Apeejay, Gokhale Memorial and Shri Shikshayatan are some of the reputable institutes that come under the category of non-missionary private schools.
Education minister Partha Chatterjee, however, said: "The government will issue a notice announcing the functioning of the commission when the schools get a clear picture about the powers of the panel."

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