Shiksha Ratna Awardee Headmaster Dies by Suicide After Pension due for 3 Years
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Kolkata: August 16 became a sad day in the history of the over two-century-old Hare School in Kolkata when its former head teacher, Dr Sunil Kumar Das, died by suicide after not getting his pension three years post-retirement.
He died at his ancestral home at Debipur village in the Memari block of Burdwan district.
Established in 1818, Hare School is Asia's oldest western education institute. Among its notable alums were Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Sen. The school, now administered under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE ), regularly has students in the top 10 of the board's merit list.
During his stint as the head teacher, Dr Das was awarded the Shiksha Ratna by the West Bengal government in 2019 and received the award from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at an event in Kolkata.
Within hours of Dr Das's suicide on August 16, state education minister Bratya Basu came to defend the West Bengal government's education department. He said there was an ongoing probe against the deceased on charges of economic malpractices. However, Dr Das's family members and the school authority denied knowledge of any such investigation being pursued by the state government. Basu also claimed that six days after the headteacher received the Shiksha Ratna award, the West Bengal government started the aforesaid probe against him.
The education minister further said that a provisional pension of a highly respectable amount was initiated, even though, according to ground reports, the teacher did not get any pension in the last three years.
He also announced the formation of a high-powered committee consisting of finance and education department officers to probe the incident.
Now questions have been raised about whether the Shiksha Ratna award had been given without scrutinising the service records of the teacher or whether, after his death, an attempt is being made to malign the image of the respected and popular teacher.
According to sources, the take of the state's education minister Bratya Basu is a sheer attempt to douse the fire that started after the suicide, which has sent ripples through the state.
The state government awarded Dr Das with Shikhsha Ratna on August 5, 2019, as part of the Teachers' Day celebrations. He retired from the position of head teacher at the Hare School in 2019.
Dr Pabitra Sarkar, noted educationist and former vice chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, said to Newsclick that it was a dangerous incident that reflects the sad state of the state's education sector. The education department is already much maligned, and it should be probed whether the teacher was victimised for not giving money to the education department officials for pension, Dr Sarkar said. He also demanded a probe headed by a former high court justice to find the culprits.
The All Bengal Teachers Association (ABTA ) condemned the "institutional murder" of the former head teacher. Talking to Newsclick, ABTA General secretary Sukumar Paine said that during the earlier Left Front government's time, there was a system of manual pension, whereby pension was made available to any teacher before 15 days of his/her retirement.
Now, the TMC-run state government has switched to e-pension. However, though the switch-over has been prima facie done to facilitate quick pension facilities, on the ground, it is taking months and, in some cases, years to disburse pensions to retired teachers.
In many cases, after the records of the teacher have been submitted to the DI office, it takes years to allocate the pensions.
Paine also alleged the case to be a political conspiracy whereby after giving the Shiksha Ratna award to the teacher, his pension was stopped by the government on frivolous charges. He added that the government is following a theme of slow movement on issues like the clearance of teachers' pensions.
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