Maharashtra government's amendment bill to Maharashtra Self-Finance Schools Act, 2012 has generated widespread criticism among the educationists, legislators and parents across the country. The amendment Bill, now languishing in legislature council after getting passed from the assembly, allows companies registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act to set up private schools in the state. Until now, only registered trusts, registered societies, and government bodies were allowed to run self-financed schools. Surprisingly, the Bill also reduces the minimum requirements for establishing a school. The companies will need to acquire 500 square metres of land instead of 2,000 square metres to set up a new school in Mumbai. In other areas, the schools can be opened with one acre of land from existing benchmark of two acres.
While the Education minister Vinod Tawde argued that the new Bill will help in creating "quality institutions" of learning, the critics believe that the legislation will only further the privatisation of education in a state which is already struggling with crippling education system.
A fundamental right
The new law, aiming to give free hand to companies in operating schools, appears to be in contravention of the directive principles of the Constitution which mandates the state to provide free and compulsory education for children till the age of 14 years. Similarly, various Supreme Court rulings emphasise that education is a charitable activity and it cannot be allowed for profiteering. In 2002, a seven-judge bench in TMA Pai Foundation versus State of Karnataka said, “education is essentially charitable in nature.”
The data provided by District Information System for Education, the centrally-maintained government database on schools, states that the number of private schools without any government assistance increased from 1.93 lakh to 2.68 lakh, registering a growth of 72 per cent. The new legislation will only strengthen this trend putting million of students at peril.
Commenting on the Bill, Balaji, Secretary of Maharashtra unit of Students Federation of India (SFI) said that the legislation mocks the heart wrenching story of Swati, a class 11 student from Latur, who had committed suicide after she could not manage Rs 260 to get her monthly bus pass renewed.
He added that the state government has also withdrawn the facility of free bus travel in state transport corporation for girls inthe drought-hit districts of Maharashtra that had been started in the memory of Swati. He alleged that the government should rather focus on increasing connectivity for schools. A school in Nashik's Chintala, only 5 kilometres away from Gujarat border, does not even have mobile connectivity in the times of government raising the slogans of "Digital India".
Lower Salaries for Teachers
The Bill has also triggered concerns of lower salaries among teachers in self-financed schools. Kapil Patil, member of legislative council from teachers' constituency, suggest that increasing number of private schools in Maharashtra will only result in deteriorating working conditions and pay for teachers in the state. Echoing same sentiments, Balaji said that the Maharashtra government does not have any mechanism to ensure that teachers get uniform salaries across the state. He added that the self-financed schools in remote areas are paying as less as Rs 5,000 as salaries to teachers.
However, Patil finds a contradiction in the functioning of government. He argues that Nand Kumar, one of the secretaries in Maharashtra government, had allegedly proposed to close 80,000 schools in the state by inviting companies to open schools. Patil told Newsclick, "We are witnessing a reintroduction of Company Raj in India. It took us hundred years to get rid of British colonialists. Maharashtra government's move will only lead to further commercialisation of the education where it has been turned into a commodity. Only those who are able to buy educations will have access to schools in the state."
He added that Patanjali group, headed by Baba Ramdev, is also planning to set up schools in State. Thus, the move allows crony capitalists to earn profit out of schools.