People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 04, 2007
FOR UNIVERSAL EDUCATION, INTELLECTUAL SELF RELIANCE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Momentous Jatha For Mightier Struggles
K K Ragesh
THE all India jatha organised by the SFI in the north-northeast and south-southwest parts of the country concluded at Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram respectively on December 11 and 13 of the year 2006. The north-northeast jatha that began on November 1 in Shimla covered the hindi heartland and the northeastern states and concluded in Kolkata with an inspiring student rally. The south- southwest jatha, which was inaugurated in Bangalore on November 4, by the eminent historian Dr K N Panicker passed through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Kerala and concluded in Thiruvananthapuram. Former SFI leaders including Prakash Karat, Biman Basu, Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala V S Achuthanandan, Nilotpal Basu, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, C Bhaskaran, K N Balagopal, P Krishnaprasad and Kallol Roy attended the concluding programmes. The decision to organise two all India jathas, collecting one crore signatures and organising hundred rallies throughout the country got an immense response from the academic community in general and the student community in particular. The All India Jatha, organised for the first time in the history of the student movement in our country, became a landmark accomplishment that could set the direction for future struggles.
Students received the jatha at various centers in large numbers. Various cultural and traditional art forms including drumbeats, folklores, and other forms of musical concerts were used to welcome the jatha. The delighted and inspired gathering of students at different centers and the manner in which the slogans and demands of the jatha were received, shows the imminent and potential growth of the progressive student movement all over the country. In many states where the SFI has a meager presence, well organised and massive student rallies and jatha receptions were organised. This shows the increased support for the SFI in various new areas.
The whole jatha campaign was organised on an eleven-point demand charter with the central slogan –– “For universal education, intellectual self reliance and social justice”. The slogan and various demands of the jatha caught the imagination of the entire academic community of our country. In many colleges of Andhra Pradesh, the college authorities including principals organised the reception programmes and in many other states the reception programmes saw the participation of writers, academicians, and cultural activists.
FOR UNIVERSAL EDUCATION
Even after 60 years of independence, it is a matter of shame for every Indian that over 2 crore children within the relevant age group do not get primary education. The 86th constitutional amendment, which made free and compulsory education a fundamental right for all children in the age group of 6-14 years, was passed in 2002. But the central government has failed to enact a central legislation to implement the constitutional mandate. Many drafts of the Right to Education bill were prepared during the NDA regime itself. All such drafts were inadequate and even the draft of the Right to education bill 2005 prepared by the UPA government tried to dilute several important provisions.
The UPA government in its National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) promised to universalise access to quality based education. It also promised ‘to raise public spending in education to at least 6 per cent of GDP with at least half this amount being spent on primary and secondary sectors’. Even after two years of assuming office the UPA government has not fulfilled this crucial commitment made in the NCMP. It is a matter of grave concern that the UPA government has taken the decision of not enacting a central legislation on Right to Education because of opposition from the finance ministry and the planning commission citing lack of resources to implement it. To fulfill the promise of universal education in the NCMP, the supposed bill must be passed by the parliament. Even though UPA government decided to place the bill in the monsoon session of the parliament, succumbing before the finance ministry’s pressures, a model Right to Education bill was formulated and sent to all state governments by the HRD ministry for enacting legislations at state level.
The draft of the Right to Education bill 2005 had invited severe criticism from various quarters for the dilution of several provisions. The proposed model Right to education bill 2006 has further diluted many of the crucial provisions made in the 2005 draft bill. Most importantly, the provision in the draft bill of reserving at least 25 per cent free seats for poor children in private schools has been done away with. The UPA government has clearly succumbed to pressures from private school managements. The entire section on the central government’s responsibility in the draft bill, including the provision of financial assistance to the states, has been deleted. The provision for constituting the National Commission for Elementary Education contained in the draft bill, meant to monitor the implementation of the Act, has also been removed. This shows that the UPA government is trying to wash its hands off the constitutional obligation of ensuring the right to education. Additionally, the government is making its assistance to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan conditional upon the state governments’ acceptance of the new proposed bill in toto. It has been argued by the central government that if the state governments do not accept the new bill it will reduce the 75:25 ratio of expenditure on the Sarva Shaiksha Abhiyan to a 50:50 ratio. It has been proposed that cost sharing on implementing the legislation would be contingent upon the state governments’ acceptance of the proposed model bill in toto. Burdening the state governments in this manner, who already bear the lion’s share of the total expenditure on education in the country, is totally unjustified and is a sure recipe for failure.
The assurance to increase public spending on education to at least 6 per cent of the GDP was very significant. Subsequent to the NCMP stipulations, the UPA government had imposed a 2 per cent cess on all central taxes to mobilise resource to finance the commitment to universalise access to quality, basic education. But Rs 500 crore, which was expected to be collected through the cess, is inadequate for the purpose. The Tapas Majumdar committee (1999) estimated an additional requirement of Rs 14,000 crore per annum for a period of ten years as the requirement for achieving universalisation of quality elementary education. An allocation of at least 10 per cent of the central budget is required to realise the promise of spending 6 per cent of GDP on education. Though education is included in the concurrent list of the Constitution of India, at present the centre bears only 10 per cent of the total expenditure. The states, which at present bear 90 per cent of the expenditure, cannot allocate more resources for that. The allocation for education in the last year was only 3.56 per cent of the total budget. This rate of increase will not accomplish the promise of providing universal education. It is to be noted that the international average of central budgetary allocation for education is about 10.15 per cent and in India it is only 4.18 per cent. If the government is serious about fulfilling the promise of spending 6 per cent of the GDP on education, it should also reverse the whole policies of commercialisation.
FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
The UPA government, which promised in the NCMP “nobody is denied professional education because he or she is poor”, should have brought a central legislation to ensure reservations for the educationally and socially backward sections in private educational institutions, including private self-financing professional colleges. At a time when reports of suicides of students due to inability to pay are rising, it is not a spectator’s role that the UPA government is expected to play. The government is yet to meet the promise of enacting a central legislation to control private professional institutions. SFI leaders were given an assurance that the central legislation would be enacted during the last budget session and that all problematic issues in the professional education sector would be resolved before the current academic session. The state education ministers’ conference held at Bangalore arrived at a consensus on the central legislation question. But the union ministry of HRD has continued to show neglect. The day the TMA Pai case judgment was delivered we argued that instead of solving problems it would accentuate them and open a pandora’s box of litigations. Today various High Courts and even the Supreme Court is hearing a plethora of petitions including the self-financing legislations passed by the state governments of Kerala and Karnataka. To put an end to this endless saga of litigations the government must step in and play its designated role of protecting the interests of the people.
In Karnataka when the jatha began two students had committed suicide. When the jatha was passing through Tamilnadu, another girl student committed suicide in Salem district. Only imposing a strict legislation to bring such institutions under strict social control can prevent such incidents of suicides.
As a result of continuous pressure from Left parties, the UPA government made an amendment to the constitution, which empowered the state to ensure special provisions for students from socially and educationally backward classes so far as their admissions even in private institutions are concerned. But such reservations can be possible only by enacting legislations at both state and central level. Since education comes under concurrent list, a central legislation to control institutions that come under the central government such as private deemed universities and state legislations to regulate institutions that come under the state government such as private professional colleges need to be enacted to ensure the constitutional mandate of the 93rd amendment. Immediately after the passage of the 93rd amendment in 2006 January, the MHRD had written a letter to all states to enact legislation on the lines of the 93rd amendment. It also suggested a differential fee structure and other provisions considering the local needs etc. But most state governments have failed to enact such legislation. The state governments, which enacted some legislation, failed to ensure provisions of freeship and scholarship for backward students. Until and unless provisions for freeships and scholarships are ensured, students from such sections cannot take admission. The legislation enacted by the Kerala state government in this regard is significant. The Kerala Professional Colleges Act which ensured reservation and freeship for socially and educationally backward classes in private self financing colleges of the state must be considered as model legislation for all other states.
All the gimmicks of the vested interests in the media-sponsored anti-reservation campaign and their rhetoric of ‘equality’ were exposed time and again in the jatha campaign. In a society where caste and class oppression coexist, social support to backward sections is a must. When merit was being replaced with money power in private professional colleges including private medical colleges the spat of merit versus reservation was unheard. While supporting the UPA governments’ decision to implement reservations in central educational institutes one should not loose sight of the fact that the true intention of the 93rd amendment to the constitution was to ensure reservation in private institutions and hence such legislation must be enacted immediately. All such legislations that intend to ensure social justice must be incorporated in the IX Schedule of the Constitution to prevent unnecessary judicial interventions.
FOR INTELLECTUAL SELF RELIANCE
Irrespective of the spirit of the various promises in the NCMP, the government is initiating a dangerous move to allow foreign universities. The government is planning to allow these foreign universities to function on the promises given by ministerial level discussions at World Trade Organisation. The document prepared by the commerce ministry intends to justify the government’s move to allow foreign universities quoting World Bank finding that only 25 per cent of Indian professionals are eligible to work for multinational companies, ironically finding it a justification to open the entire education system for foreign players. The document exhibits its bias by stating that all the public education institutes in our country are ‘not growing’ while at the same time private institutes are ‘growing rapidly’. The concerned document does not take into account the fact that the pathetic situation in the quality of our professional education is due to commercialisation of education and the mushrooming of private institutions as mere teaching shops. Such a move will only deteriorate the quality of our higher education further, affecting our university system the worst. Our country has made significant achievements in various frontiers of knowledge including space science, IT etc. and the same was possible because of our public funded university system and research institutions. Universities are not mere teaching shops. Universities have the responsibility of creating knowledge for the entire society. They are the dwelling places of ideas. It is well evident that privatisation of education has weakened our public funded education system and resulted in the declining of the quality. If our university system is also opened to foreign and private players the same will weaken our public funded university system itself. And further we will have to depend on foreign countries for new-fangled frontiers of knowledge. Foreign universities are not being established to spearhead our research and knowledge production. Reputed institutions like Cambridge and Oxford are not going to open their offshore centres, rather substandard foreign institutions that are interested in trade in education are going to establish their teaching shops in our country. The UPA government’s policy to open our education to foreign players will annihilate the intellectual self-reliance of our country itself.
It is quiet evident that the Ambani-Birla committee recommendations are being implemented in the higher education sector. It is the Ambani-Birla report that suggested commercialisation of education, full cost recovery and user pay principle, establishment of foreign and private universities etc., in the education field. It is dangerous to mould the education sector of our country according to the interests and business prospects of industrialists. Reforms in education must be directed towards a quantitative and qualitative improvement in education. The same is attainable only if the government is prepared to reverse its present anti-student policies by implementing the promises in the NCMP. Subsequent to the Kothari commission in 1964, a comprehensive education commission did not come into force till now. A comprehensive national education commission is the need of the time. Changes in education should be made on the basis of the recommendations of that commission which must comprise of academic experts.
Along with the demands of universal education, protecting intellectual self-reliance and social justice, the jatha raised the demand of ensuring democratic rights. The apex court recently directed all state governments to implement the Lyngdoh committee recommendations, i.e., hold students’ union elections in all campuses. Even after the Supreme Court verdict many state governments and various education institutions are still reluctant in implementing the same. The Jatha campaign is undoubtedly a proclamation to prepare for future struggles. Even though the NCMP of the UPA government assures many pro-people measures our experience shows that unless the government is pressurised it will not implement its promises. People from various sections must join hands to force the UPA government to take pro-people measures. The historic all India jatha has successfully set its direction of pressurising the UPA government by rallying more and more students in the future struggles.