Mamata`s bid to de-politicise education

The writ of students, non-teaching employees and politicians will no longer run in the decision making process of West Bengal`s state universities.

Kolkata: The writ of students, non-teaching employees and politicians will no longer run in the decision making process of West Bengal`s state universities, unlike the scenario in the erstwhile Left Front regime, with the Mamata Banerjee government unveiling a slew of reforms aimed at leaving academics to academicians.

Before the April-May assembly election, Banerjee and a large section of intellectuals had repeatedly criticised the Left for establishing a `partycracy` in education. The Trinamool Congress chief had promised to rectify it if her party came to power.
True to her promise, this week her government passed an ordinance covering 13 state universities and barring academicians who are members of or associated with any political party from becoming vice chancellors.

The ordinance, which has provisions for sweeping reforms, decrees that university governing bodies like senates, courts and syndicates would have no representation from students, research scholars, legislators, state government nominees, non-teaching employees, registered graduates, trade unions and peasant organisations - something unthinkable during the Left rule.

These sections had been playing key roles in the running of the universities during the Left Front regime. At times, the opinions of these representatives, mainly with Left backgrounds, carried more weight in academic matters than even top ranking varsity administrators, including vice chancellors.

Principals of 15 affiliated colleges to be selected by the state government will form part of the governing bodies.

The ordinance also provides for removal of vice chancellors on several grounds, including incompetence.

However, the measures have triggered howls of protests from the Left Front which described the passing of the ordinance as "draconian" and "undemocratic", with the Left-leaning students and non-teaching employees taking to the streets.

Education apart, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be having a rethink on the total aversion she displayed to her personal security during the early days in power.

Banerjee suddenly seems to have woken up to the need for strengthening the protective ring around her, of all places, in the VVIP zone of the state secretariat. The ministers have been barred from briefing the press from the podium outside Banerjee`s first floor chamber. The podium will now be used exclusively by the chief minister, while her ministerial colleagues can interact with the media in the nearby press corner on the same floor.
Banerjee, who had earlier asked police not to use hooters or stop traffic to ensure free passage for her convoy and whose car still stops at all traffic signals, agreed to a stricter security after promptings from the security agencies.

Movement of people have been restricted over a 50-m stretch in the VVIP corridor in front of her chamber - an unprecedented step. During the Left Front days, mediapersons had free access in the area and regularly posed queries to then chief minister Jyoti Basu and his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

However, according to police officers, Banerjee`s security details have been revised in the wake of a heightened threat perception from Maoists.

But it was in the area of health - a portfolio looked after by Banerjee herself - that the government had its most embarrassing moments.

A newborn died at a Murshidabad district sub-divisional hospital Wednesday allegedly after its mother was swabbed with acid instead of disinfectant for pre-delivery cleaning, leading to a furore. The administration denied the charge.

The incident, days after the death of 28 babies in two government hospitals, drew strong condemnation from the opposition as also the civil society and brought into the open the fragile state of health care in West Bengal.


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