Maharashtra: Lumpen power

Mumbai’s intelligentsia and academics are up in arms against the speedy decision of University of Mumbai vice chancellor Dr. Rajan Welukar to drop Rohinton Mistry’s Booker-nominated novel Such a Long Journey (1991) from the second year BA English literature syllabus of its 670 affiliated colleges. Over 1,080 academics, civil society activists and intellectuals signed an online petition dated October 25, addressed to the Maharashtra governor and ex-officio chancellor of the university Kateekal  Sankaranarayan, demanding an inquiry into the procedure Welukar followed to withdraw this book which has been on the BA Eng lit syllabus for the past three years, following a threat by the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS), the youth wing of Mumbai’s notorious right wing subnationalist political party, the Shiv Sena.

BVS and particularly Aditya Thackeray (20) — grandson of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray and son of executive president Uddhav Thackeray — raised an objection to Such a Long Journey being included in the English syllabus on the ground that the novel contained derogatory references to the Shiv Sena, Mumbai’s dabbawalas, the Marathi manoos and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, utilising “extremely obscene and vulgar lang-uage in its text”. On September 14, BVS activists ritually burnt copies of the novel at the university’s Fort campus and asked Welukar to withdraw it from the syllabus within 24 hours. The very next day, Welukar obligingly re-convened the university’s Board of Studies (whose five-year term had lapsed on August 30) and with its concurrence under s.14 (7) of the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994, which empowers the vice chancellor to take “immediate action if s/he deems the university is in any danger”, eliminated the novel from the varsity syllabus on September 15, just a fortnight prior to the scheduled second year BA exams.

Unsurprisingly, the abject capitulation of the vice chancellor of this 153-year-old university to the threats of a callow youth and the Sena has outraged the intelligentsia and academic opinion in Mumbai. Accusing the university’s resuscitated Board of Studies and vice chancellor Welukar of providing “deluxe service via express delivery, making the book disappear the very next day”, in a message from Canada, Mistry said that “Mumbai University has come perilously close to institutionalising the ugly notion of self-censorship”.

Aditya Thackeray, whose tender sensibilities were offended by some passages of Such a Long Journey, is unfazed. “We have no issues with the book being available in the market, but it is being forced upon us by being included in the syllabus,” he says.

Meanwhile with Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan justifying the book ban by the state government-funded Mumbai University, the spotlight has focused on vice chancellor Welukar, appointed to head this university in July this year. An obscure Nagpur-based statistician who has never attained the rank of professor or college principal —  prerequisites of a vice chancellor under the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994  —  Welukar’s appointment has been challenged by a PIL (public interest litigation) writ filed in the Bombay high court on September 15. How was Welukar appointed vice chancellor, by whom and why, queries the petition.

Moreover other conundrums are being posed. Given the Shiv Sena’s aversion to English medium education, how did young Aditya Thackeray make the grade for admission into St. Xavier’s College where cut-off percentages are sky high?
Good questions all, but don’t expect any answers soon.


Fee-hike controversy in Mumbai

Close on the heels of the Bombay high court striking down the Maharashtra govern-ment’s percentile formula and ‘best-of-five’ policy which tilted junior college admissions in favour of the state’s SSC (Secondary School Certificate) board affiliated students, comes another reprimand from the judiciary to the state government.

On September 1, a two-judge bench of the Bombay high court constituted by D.K. Deshmukh and N.D. Desh-pande JJ, struck down a government resolution (GR) dated July 15 appointing fees regulation committees to determine the tuition fees of the state’s 8,640 private unaided schools. In Association of International Schools and Principals Foundation vs. State of Maharashtra (WP (L) No.1876 of 2010), the high court ruled that private independent schools have the right to determine their own fee structures in keeping with Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution which grants all citizens the right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

“The right to establish and administer broadly comprises the right to set up a reasonable fee structure. One cannot lose sight of the fact that providing good amenities to students in the form of competent teaching facility and other infrastructure costs money… The decision on the fee to be charged must necessarily be left to the private educational institution that does not seek or is not dependent upon any funds from the government,” observed the court.

The 16-member Association of International Schools and Principals Foundation (estb.2008) and the Private Unaided Schools Forum, whose petitions challenging the GR were clubbed together, are pleased with the court’s verdict. “High-quality teachers, ICT and sports infrastructure cost money and private schools have no source of income except tuition fees. Government intervention in fees regulation will pave way for licence and inspector raj in private schools. Fortunately the court has stopped the government from interfering with the autonomy of private schools,” says Rohan Bhat, managing trustee of the Children’s Academy Group of Schools, Mumbai and a member of the Private Unaided Schools Forum.

However the commonsense judge-ment of the high court hasn’t gone down well with the parents’ community which myopically favours government regulation of tuition fees. Parents grouped under the banners of the Mumbai-based Forum for Fairness in Education (FFE) and the All India Federation of PTAs (AIFP) have filed a petition in the high court pleading for a review of the September 1 verdict, and called upon parents to protest by keeping children out of school on September 27-28. “Annual tuition fees increases should be formulated transparently subject to approval of the state government’s education ministry and/or a fees regulation committee appointed by government,” says Jayant Jain, president of FFE.

The genesis of the September 1 high court verdict can be traced to April 2009, when some parents filed a petition against tuition fees being raised from Rs.1,400 to Rs.2,100 per month by the Bal Bharti Public School in Kharghar, a Mumbai suburb. In June, a 21-member committee led by retired IAS officer Kumud Bansal, was constituted to frame broad principles according to which private unaided schools could determine their tuition fee structures.

In October last year, the Bansal committee submitted its report banning capitation fees, but allowed private unaided school managements auto-nomy to structure their own fees, subject to institutional profit not exceeding 15 percent. But the Bansal committee’s report was severely criticised by FFE and AIFP for being “management friendly”.
Following this, the high court in an order dated February 10 directed the state government to frame a tuition fees policy after consulting experts, acade-mics and parents. The outcome was the GR dated July 15, which was struck down by the court as unconstitutional on September 1.

Ironically, parents who are pushing for state government intervention to hold down tuition fees in unaided schools seem oblivious of the danger of inviting government intervention in the administration of private schools — a sure recipe for dumbing down India’s high-quality unaided schools to government school standards. Quite evidently the parents community in Maharashtra seems unable to grasp this commonsense proposition.

Swati Roy (Mumbai)

Special needs children’s champion

 A contingent of 31 students of JBCN Pan Academy, Mumbai, a K-12 school for children with learning disabilities, has returned with encomiums from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (EFF) 2010. The five-day annual EFF is organised every autumn by Festival Fringe Society Ltd, a Scotland-based arts festival company. It attracts amateur artists, actors, performers and playwrights from education institutions in the UK and abroad. This year EFF welcomed over 21,148 performers to the scenic and ancient capital of Scotland. “Ours was the first school from India as well as the first school for special children to have ever participated in EFF. We staged a musical Mumbai Calling which highlighted the eternal faith, hope and optimism of the people of Mumbai after the deadly 26/11 terrorist attacks in 2008. For our students this was truly a learning experience,” says Fatima Agarkar, director-partner of JBCN Education Pvt. Ltd, who led the children’s contingent to Edinburgh. JBCN Pan Academy was established in 2005 by Agarkar and Pinky Dalal, promoter of the Children’s Nook Group of Kindergarten Schools which has nine branches in and around Mumbai. A commerce graduate of Mumbai’s well-known Sydenham College of Commerce, Agarkar studied business management at Birmingham University, and worked with Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, UK, after which she returned to India in 2000 and did stints with Times of India (2000-2002) and Egon Zehnder (2002-2004). In 2004, after her marriage with India test cricket star Ajit Agarkar, she quit the corporate world and co-promoted JBCN Education with the company’s chairperson Pinky Dalal and directors Hemali and Kunal Dalal. Currently the education focused company manages the Children’s Nook pre-schools, the K-12 SJBCN International (estb. 2010) and JBCN Pan Academy, apart from providing education consultancy services to several K-12 schools in Mumbai. “Education of disabled children has so far been an area of darkness. Therefore JBCN Pan Academy provides its 140 differently abled students instructed by 70 teachers, facilities and learning aids on a par with the best available in the West. We want our children to be part of a global network of special schools with national and international platforms to showcase their talents,” says Agarkar who adds that 16 percent of children in the academy are from low-income households admitted on scholarships and freeships. The JBCN model has to be “replicated a thousand times over” to meet the needs of an estimated 35 million special needs children in India, according to Agarkar. “At the EFF festival we became aware of the potential of a guild to raise funding. We are working proactively towards forming a guild to raise the standards of special needs schools and pressurise government and philanthropists to partner with us to increase their number in the country,” says Agarkar. The Force be with you!

Motivational author

Enthused by the stupendous success of her first book Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish (2008), which recounted the secrets of several first generation business entrepreneurs and has reportedly sold over 150,000 copies in eight languages, Mumbai-based author Rashmi Bansal formally released her second title Connect the Dots (2010) at a crowded press conference in the city’s Landmark Bookstore on May 20.

The title of Bansal’s second oeuvre is inspired by legendary Apple Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust… in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference to my life,” said Jobs.

Connect the Dots is about 20 extraordinary people who without the benefit of formal degrees and B-school certificates followed their entrepre-neurial instincts to transform into successful business leaders. I wrote this book to give readers inspiring stories of people who believed in their ideas and made them work without expensive, formal training. Some of the extraordinary entreprenuers I have featured in my book include Kunwar Sachdev of Su-Kam, who started an auxiliary power back-up company to help people cope with acute power shortages; Ganesh Ram who started India’s largest English language training academy, VETA, and Chetan Maini, the pioneer of electric motor cars,” says Bansal, an alumna of IIM-Ahmedabad, former Times of India columnist and founder-publisher and editor of JAM — a fortnightly youth magazine launched in 1995 which claims a circulation of 30,000 per issue. In 2008 after putting JAM on the rails, Bansal vacated the editor’s office to transform into an editorial advisor and full-time author of motivational books and literature.

Bansal’s pioneering contributions to the causes of youth education and entrepreneurship are receiving incre-asing recognition. She is a guest lecturer and panelist at IIM-A and several other business schools; a consulting editor of an half-hour weekly show named Cracking Careers with UTVi, a business news channel, even as she writes columns for Businessworld, Business Today,, and blogs on Youthcurry.

“While the media tends to focus on gloom and doom stories relating to economics and business, I believe there are thousands of inspiring success stories of strong-willed individuals who have succeeded despite a discou-raging system, waiting to be told. This is the focus area of my research which translates into books,” says Bansal who discloses that she has already started researching her next book on social entrepreneurs. “I want to highlight that it is possible to contribute to the social good while being successful in business. That’s why I focus on stories in which both objectives have been achieved,” adds Bansal.

Write on!

Maharashtra: Pot & kettle saga

The academic and medical communities in the western sea-board state of Maharashtra (pop. 99 million) are outraged about show-cause notices issued by the Delhi-based Medical Council of India (MCI) to one of Mumbai’s most respected medical colleges. In a curious case of pot calling kettle black, MCI, which over the past decade under the presidency of the recently ousted Ketan Desai had become an acronym synonymous with corrup-tion and extortion, issued a second showcause notice on August 11 to the Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College (SGSMC, estb. 1926) which has an enrolment of 2,000 undergraduate and postgrad students. SGSMC, which is associated with Mumbai’s prestigious 1,800-bed KEM (King Edward Memorial) Hospital which treats 1.8 million out-patients and 68,000 in-patients annually, has been threatened with de-recognition of its undergrad MBBS study programme.

According to the MCI notice, SGSMC-KEM has a deficit of 57 faculty. Medical practitioners and educationists in Mumbai in particular are in a lather because SGSMC-KEM is among the finest medical college hospitals in India. SGSMC, popularly known as KEM College, is regularly ranked among India’s top ten medical colleges by India Today and other respected media surveys. According to its alumni, India’s first ever heart transplant was cond-ucted at KEM hospital, and SGSMC boasts active research departments which have published over 2,000 research papers nationally and internationally, and has attracted grants from the Bill Gates Foundation and National Institute of Health, USA.  Funded by the Bombay Municipal Corporation, both institutions are charitable trusts providing free-of-charge medical care and service to the public.

Incidentally, the older Ketan Desai-led MCI was itself dissolved on May 14 on charges of corru-ption. During Desai’s five-year tenure, MCI had granted recognition to 35 colleges, many of them with grossly inadequate infrastructure while some of the country’s most respected medical colleges — including the Kasturba Medical College, Manipal — were briefly derecognised.  On May 24, a new seven-member MCI was constituted, and it has routinely issued the August 11 notice to KEM College. “Even though the MCI has been reconstituted, they don’t seem inclined to take a fresh look at the cases on their table. They are just following old cases routinely,” says Dr. Sanjay Oak, dean of SGSMC.

Against the backdrop of India hosting a mere 668,000 qualified (allopathy) medical practi-tioners for its 1.18 billion population (cf. USA’s 850,000 medical practitioners for 307 million), the consensus of opinion within the community of medical practitioners and educationists is that the norms and standards prescribed by MCI are outdated. They argue that new information communication technologies need to be embraced to counter the teacher shortage problem. “KEM College has already installed e-classrooms, and does not require the number of teachers prescribed by MCI,” says Dr. Chetan Kantharia, associate professor at SGSMC and senior surgeon of the department of surgical gastroentrology at KEM Hospital.

Adds Dr. Oak: “The MCI must revise its norms. Currently its faculty and infrastructure norms are so high that it is impossible for any government medical college to comply. We want to be able to provide students quality medical education but with faculty remuneration, tuition fees and admission controlled by government, our job is becoming very difficult.”

Although Oak is loath to stress the point, lack of autonomy and iron-fisted government control of all government-run medical colleges make it impossible for them to attract faculty. For even though MCI has calculated Rs.4 lakh per year as the cost of medical education provision, SGSMC’s tuition fee for its 2,000 students is a mere Rs.20,000 per year — a shortfall which can’t be made up with its modest annual grant (Rs.140 crore in 2009-10). Moreover faculty salaries are determined by the state government rather than the SGSMC management and capped at Rs.40,000 per month.

“Government medical colleges are running on dismally low government grants and abysmally low tuition fees and cannot afford to pay their faculty market salaries. Therefore there are few adequately qualified takers for faculty positions. Hence the 57 vacancies.  Autonomy will enable SGSMC to charge actual cost of tuition provision and raise funds independently instead of being pathetically dependent on meagre government grants, pay market salaries, provide state-of-the-art infrastructure and produce international standard doctors which is its prime purpose,” says Dr. Ameet Pispathi, orthopedic surgeon at Mumbai’s Bhatia and Jaslok hospitals, and a KEM alumnus.

But such rational advice falls on deaf ears in the offices of the municipal corporation and state government.  Meanwhile shortages of faculty — and medical practitioners — will persist.

Swati Roy & Bharati Thakore (Mumbai)


I recently was introduced to a cool counselling programme that is in use at Indian Institute of Technolgy, Bombay.  

IIT-B has a mentorship programme for students right from their 1st year. The freshers , called mentees are put under senior student mentors – senior students in the 3rd and 4th year who have done well consistently. The idea is that freshers have someone to talk to like friends. People do it individually as well, institute initiating it is great idea,
For those whose scores drop in the second year or mid way, they are put under teacher mentors. One of the teachers make them write diaries – i spoke to him – everyday, and share their activities with them. He says that there simple behavioural patterns are checked – eating habits, regular and timely sleeping habits, excessive involvement in cultural activities and stuff.  It’s more casual free talk than clinical counselling – which is why it works.
Now students who drop scores mid way are put through Academic Rehabilitation Programme – before their final semesters. They can choose to sit for four courses – out of all in a semester – some of it in which they have appeared before. They usually then do well, and are rehabilitated in their main course.

Before 2008, these students were spoken to only after they scored poorly in their final exams – and then were given an option to sit for four papers after the final semeseters. If they didn;t do well, they were expelled – but the damage  was done, so they were ususally expelled. That’s not the case now.
In serious cases, they are refered to professional couselors. Found this whole concept interesting. The idea was triggered after oen of the students expelled and thereafter spoken to by the professors – was found to have langauge handicaps.

One of the professors I spoke to said instittues like IIT and IIM are more in need for such programmes as students here are considered to be the cream of the lot. Even as they are so, they have an inferiority complex and and are insecure of the other students meet here – thinking that the other one is better than me… Cousnelling – based on talking out your problems or just a day’s routine eases out the stresses…

I found this concept quite cool… a model that should be replicated at institutes elsewhere.

FYJC Admissions, Mumbai

There’s a rising wave of parental and students’ protest against persistent delays in the commencement of the academic year in Maharashtra’s 5,000 junior colleges, which admit an estimated 1.2 million Plus Two (class XI and XII) students annually. This year the academic year was scheduled to start on July 10, but the date has been postponed to August 28. Last year (2009), the academic year commenced on August 9. In short during the past two years teachers and students have lost over a month of the new academic year. Informed public opinion is unanimous that unwarranted interference by the state government — in particular its persistent efforts to tilt junior college admissions in favour of class X school-leaving students writing the state government’s SSC (Secondary School Certificate) exam — is to blame. An estimated 1.6 million students write the SSC exam every year, against 18,000 who write the class X exams of the Union government’s Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the private sector Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) in Maharashtra. But because the academic and curricular standards of the pan-India examination boards are higher, students writing the exams of these boards tend to bag a disproportionately higher number of junior college admissions. For parochial pride and vote-catching reasons, since 2007 the state government has been attempting to tilt junior college admissions in favour of SSC students. In 2008, the state government introduced its percentile formula under which junior colleges were directed to divide a student’s aggregate by the average of the top 10 students from that particular board, multiply it by 100 and use the resulting percentile for admission. This directive was struck down by the Bombay high court on September 26, 2008 as discriminatory. Undaunted in 2009 the state govern-ment introduced the 90:10 system under which 90 percent of the seats in junior colleges were to be reserved for SSC students. Once again the high court struck the proposal down as discri-minatory on July 6 last year. Nothing loath, in April this year, to the same end, based on the report of a committee chaired by the state’s education minister Balasaheb Thorat, the state government issued its ‘best of five’ directive under which junior college managements were obliged to assess the admission applications of SSC students on the basis of the average scores of their best five of six answer papers, while school leavers from CISCE and CBSE boards would continue to be ranked on the basis of their overall averages. Once again this directive was challenged in the Bombay high court by the parent of a CISCE affiliated school, which struck it down on June 23. Ill-advisedly the state government appealed the high court’s verdict in the Supreme Court. On July 13 the apex court passed an interim judgement on the best of five policy, directing the state government to implement it for SSC students but ordered it to extend the assessment formula to CISCE and CBSE school-leaving students as well. This annual display of populist petty parochialism is taking a toll on students who need to average high percentages to enter the country’s much-too-few undergrad colleges. “Our first semester will last only for 15-20 days, which won’t be enough for completing the syllabus on time,” says Mithun Siria, an SSC school leaver who has been admitted into the M.N. College of Commerce and Economics. Therefore, Siria has signed up with a coaching school. “My coaching classes started a month before junior college begins. This way my studies won’t be hampered because of the delayed academic session,” he says. While Maharashtra’s deputy director of education, S.C. Chauhan, says that the academic session of 2010-11 will be completed as per schedule, educati-onists tend to differ. Comments Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas, principal of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai: “Junior college classes should already have begun by now. We are over a month late in starting and have to cover the entire syllabus. With these constant delays we can’t go deep into our syllabuses.” Adds Marie Fernandes, principal of St. Andrew’s College which is now processing junior college applications to admit an estimated 450 students into class XI this year: “The quality of education is suffering because of all this drama. Last year, admissions were delayed and the state government dropped the first unit test for first year junior college students. This is hurting the chances of our students doing well in the class XII exams next year.” Meanwhile educationists in Mumbai stress that the Supreme Court’s verdict of July 13 levelling the junior college admissions playing field is an interim order. In October, it will pronounce its final order in which severe strictures are likely to be passed against the Maharashtra government.