Politicians only convention

At the best of times democracy indian style, a curious combination of excessive political licence, anarchic personal freedoms and disabling economic controls, can be an embarrassment. But citizens of other third world countries and especially in neighbouring Pakistan, cannot help admiring the smooth and unacrimonious transfer of power from defeated governments to successor administrations which is a defining characteristic of Indian democracy. Thus it can be said for all their faults, nothing in the office of Messrs Vajpayee and Advani became them as their leaving of it, following their unexpected electoral defeat this time last year.

But hang on. Behind the facade of democracy Indian style, knives are drawn, even if only metaphorically. When new governments take charge in New Delhi, heads begin to roll, even within the cloistered groves of Indian academia. Few newly sworn-in ministers can resist the temptation to play Chinese checkers with bureaucrats in government organisations, even if they are handle-with-care education institutions.

A classic case in point is Union HRD minister Arjun Singh who peremptorily sacked the chairmen of NCERT, ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research), ICSSR, and AICTE after assuming office last February. Nor according to HRD ministry sources is the witch-hunt over. Among other apex-level academics on Singh’s hit list are Arun Nigavekar and Rajashekaran Pillai, chairman and vice chairman of UGC, and the incumbent directors of IIT-Delhi and IIT-Roorkee — all for alleged pro-sangh parivar sympathies.

Quite obviously the smooth transfer of power convention applies only to politicians.

Telling evidence

In civil society there’s unlikely to be much disputation that the ignominious oscar for being India’s most backward and lawless state should be awarded to Bihar, where master caste-arithmetic tactician Laloo Prasad Yadav has directly or through his proxy unlettered wife ruled for 15 uninterrupted years. On the other hand there is a virtual consensus among economists that Punjab is India’s most highly developed state given its high per capita income.

However under the unapologetically corrupt rule of a succession of self-aggrandising chief ministers, despite its impressive per capita income statistics Punjab has morphed into a social and educational backwater. For one, this tiny state (pop.24 million) has the highest incidence of female infanticide as a result of which its female-male population ratio @ 1,000:660 is the most unequal in the country. And secondly, teachers posts in government schools as well as the civil services are blatantly auctioned, with a case pending against former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal on this count.

Now the latest news is that Punjab is the country’s most laggard state in implementing the Union government’s much-trumpeted Sarva Shikshan Abhiyaan (SSA) or Education for All programme. Under SSA the Central government provides 75 percent of the outlay required to get all children aged six-14 into school, with the remaining 25 percent to be contributed by state governments. In the current year the Punjab government has paid-up a mere 6 percent of its agreed outlay, resulting in a commensurate cut in Central funding. The consequence: over 100,000 children who should have been enrolled are still out of school. All the state government has done to implement SSA is to construct an unwarrantedly plush office for its educrats.

Telling evidence of the infirmity of per capita income ratings.

Divine blessing

A widely welcomed development that has taken Indian academia by surprise is that the RamaKrishna Mission’s proposal to establish a university in Kolkata has been approved by the Union government. Unprecedentedly, the proposed institute christened RamaKrishna Mission Vivekananda Educational and Research Institute, has been accorded the status of a deemed university ab initio which places it on an academic pedestal higher than of an open university, which was the best RKM trustees hoped for.

The University Grants Commission’s sanction letter lays down three specifications which have already been conceded by RKM. One, the deemed university will adhere to the guidelines issued by UGC. Secondly, it will adopt UGC-specified pay scales for its faculty. And thirdly, the institute’s infrastructure will be adequate for its purposes. Swami Atmapriyananda, principal of the RKM Vidya Mandir, Belur who has been chasing RKM’s application through the education ministries in Kolkata and New Delhi for several years has reiterated that "unconventional courses" will comprise the new deemed university’s major thrust areas.

Education department officials in Kolkata deny that EW’s espousal of the RKM cause swung the decision in the trust’s favour.

Messier mess

The detoxification drive at the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) which manages 850 Central government promoted Kendriya Vidyalaya schools with an aggregate enrollment of 7.26 lakh students across the country, has taken a new twist. The fate of 1,571 candidates who cleared the selection process for teachers jobs in the Kendriya Vidyalayas hangs in the balance with KVS commissioner Ranglal Jamuda refusing to issue them appointment letters. Ironically, the fate of the same number of teachers who refused transfers and resigned their jobs in protest against the transfer policy (2000) of the NDA government (against whom new candidates were recruited), is no better.

Their reinstatement promised by incumbent Union HRD minister Arjun Singh has hit a legal stumbling block. As per their contract every KVS teacher’s job is transferable and there is little justification for reinstating those who quit. The mess has become messier since Jamuda took charge as commissioner in September last year. As commissioner he has been ploughing a minefield, reportedly to please Arjun Singh and drew up a list of 95 KVs allegedly promoted in violation of established norms by the ousted NDA government (the cabinet is yet to decide on the ministry’s note in this matter). Moreover Jamuda has queried the selection procedure (outsourced to a private agency at a cost of Rs.1.25 crore). However last November he suffered a setback when the Chandigarh bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal stayed his November 19 order cancelling the appointments of 140 teachers in KVs and repatriation of 187 principals on deputation across the country. Ironically Jamuda is the sixth commissioner to take office in as many months after Arjun Singh took over as ex officio chairman of KVS.

Feeling the heat of a disarrayed KVS administration, the newly appointed commissioner has snapped all contact with the media and shut down its public relations department. According to KVS sources, Jamuda has finalised a plan to advertise a fresh teacher recruitment drive and is currently scrambling to recruit contract teachers to complete the syllabus of the current academic year.

A classic instance of making a mess messier.