Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan was absolutely right when he termed the collection of capitation fee by aided educational institutions "corruption" and made a bold statement that those who indulge in such "commercial practices" will have to face action. The statement was music not only to the supporters of the Left government but also to anyone who wishes for the resurrection of the public education sector.
Pinarayi deserves praise for the statement which is a direct hit on the private managements who are on a rampage in the highly commercialized education sector in the state. However, the CM's statement also prompts one to ask a question which is equally or more relevant as the collection of capitation fee: Will the state government ever dare to question the practice of aided managements collecting donation, a carefully crafted euphemism for bribe, for appointment of new teaching and non-teaching staff?
Having termed the collection of capitation fee corruption, one will have to search for a harsher word to describe the practice of the collection of the so-called donation, provided the amount of money involved in the malpractice. For anyone who has attended an interview for a teacher's post in an aided college or school, barring a few institutions in the state, it's a well-known fact that the candidates discuss the amount they have been asked to pay more than the questions they are expected to answer. According to a reliable source, a management, run by a religious group in central Kerala, decided to set the "base price" for an assistant professor's post at Rs 30 lakh because they had one candidate who was willing to pay Rs 60 lakh when they conducted an interview the previous time.
There are managements who provide a chit to each candidate when they wait for their turn at the interview. The candidates are supposed to write the amount they can afford for the post on the chit, so that the recruitment process becomes easier. In most of the cases, the amount is fixed through private talks between the candidates or their families with some influential persons in the management. This has been happening for years now and it seems apt to call it an “open secret”. Those who are associated with the "market" - teachers, aspiring teachers, their parents, managements, college staff - everyone discusses it but the practice remains invisible. Sounds like an underground activity? It indeed is.
The managements, mostly run by religious or caste groups, make weighty statements about the values and ethics they inculcate in the students, but when it comes to the sale or auction of a job, the easiest thing they easily forget those values and ethics.
Equally condemnable is the attitude of the highly qualified youngsters who are willing to pay lakhs of rupees to these managements and thus keep the illegal money mill turning. Everyone forgets that such candidates lose their qualification to be an ideal teacher the moment they buy the job with their parents', or in-laws’ money. But youngsters, whose ambitions in life end with a secure job with a big fat salary and who spend their working life with their eyes set on regular pay commissions, cannot be blamed totally. Still, it must be noted that many eligible and more ambitious people who would deserve such jobs are getting sidelined by this sale, and are forced to go for other options. But that is what is expected to happen in a money-run system.
Let's not discuss who to be blamed as it wouldn't bring us any answers. But the selective silence of the politicians, irrespective of their ideologies and positions in the power structure about the shameful sale of jobs in the field of higher education is unpardonable. To question such silence will be a futile exercise because we have seen how silence is used as the most powerful weapon by our politicians who try every trick to survive through mere vote-bank politics, where religious and community groups have more commanding power than the elected representatives. We can only wait for the day a government would show the courage to tell the managements that they will have to face the music if they continue to be wholesale dealers of jobs for which the salary and other perks are paid from taxpayer money.
Question is, can Pinarayi bite this bullet? If he cannot, no one probably can.
(Views expressed are personal)