Dr. Sandeep Pandey is a well-known Gandhian socialist leader and a Ramon Magsaysay award-winning scholar. Recently, he was sacked by Banaras Hindu University for being an alleged Naxal supporter among other things but the Allahabad High Court has reinstated him.
He is currently sitting on an indefinite hunger strike protesting the non-implementation of an order of the Allahabad High Court issued last year in August.
On August 18, 2015, Allahabad High Court gave a landmark decision on making government schooling mandatory for the children of government employees and elected representatives. This was expected to be effective from the new academic session 2016-2017. However, that has not taken place.
Pandey is on strike in Lucknow. He has met Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in this regard, as he told us, but no conclusive agreement has been reached. This is the 11th day of his strike. YKA spoke to him regarding his concerns. Here are some edited excerpts.
1. What is your view on the Allahabad High Court order?
It will revolutionise the Indian school system. It will magically transform the quality of government schools overnight, when the children of those responsible for running these schools, will study in these schools. They will then have a stake in improving its quality. And this will not take time. When (the) District Magistrate’s child will go to a government school, the quality of teaching and infrastructure will improve instantly. It’ll have two benefits. Children of poor will get a good education for the first time in their lives. A report says 90 percent of children of poor, even after completing class IV, remain illiterate. Moreover, the middle class will save money on sending their children to private schools.
2. How do you see the schooling system in India?
It is a failure. ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act,’ 2009 is in place in India but education is neither free nor compulsory. People who can afford have to spend enormous amounts in sending their children to school. The lower middle class and even the poor who can afford it are now sending their children to private schools. This is an unnecessary burden on parents. Children of poor, who constitute 90 percent of school-going children, attend schools where there is no teaching. 50 percent children drop out around class VII. Those who are able to continue have to indulge in cheating to pass their Board examinations. By making a compulsory payment of Rs. 5000, one can pass the Class X examination of the U.P. Board and by paying double the amount, you can have somebody else write the examination for you. A large number of children are still engaged in child labour who never see the inside of a school. It is a mockery of the ‘compulsory’ part in the Act. Can the country progress on the basis of this kind of farcical education system?
3. Are you totally against private education? Please specify.
Yes. Wherever in the world 99-100 (percent) literacy rates have been achieved, it has been through the Common School System, with the inherent concept of a neighbourhood school. Common School System is the responsibility of the government. In 1968, Kothari Commission recommended the implementation of the Common School System in India.
However, progressive governments have ignored this recommendation. The RTE Act, which was passed during the Manmohan Singh government, provides for the education of up to 25 percent children from disadvantaged and weaker sections in private schools. But that is hugely inadequate. We must learn from Sri Lanka’s experience. It has a literacy rate of 92% and private schools are banned in Sri Lanka.
4. Why is the government unable to find a solution despite having the court order?
There is huge resistance from the bureaucrats. They want special ‘sanskriti‘ schools for their children. They want to take the education system in a direction opposite to what the High Court order intends. When the HC order came, the Basic Education Minister in UP, Ram Govind Chaudhary got his grand-daughter admitted to a government school and wrote a letter to IAS officers to consider sending their children to government schools. He was removed as Basic Education Minister and replaced by a retired IPS officer-turned-politician Ahmed Hasan. One can imagine the power of IAS lobby. But there are good IAS officers too. S. Ministhy, originally from Kerala now in the UP cadre, sends her children to Kendriya Vidayala in spite of having the option of sending her children to any of the elite schools in Lucknow, as her colleagues do.
5. What is the immediate reason for your protest? Will it get the attention of the mainstream media?
The HC order was to be implemented within six months of its pronouncement on August 18, 2015 and the government was ordered to file a compliance report at the end of six months. The order was to be implemented from the beginning of the academic year 2016-17. The U.P. government has done nothing. In my meeting with the CM on June 8, he has now ordered the Secretary, Basic Education to study the HC order. This shows the lackadaisical attitude of the government. The immediate reason for my sitting on fast was that the admission period for academic session 2016-17 is coming to an end in July. Once it is over, the government will have an excuse that it’ll implement the HC order only next year. I did not want the government to escape from fulfilling its responsibility in such an important matter. I’m slightly disappointed with mainstream media coverage but I also realise I’ve not been able to convert this into a mass movement.
6. What kind of suggestions you would like to give the government, so it can implement the court order effectively?
Make it necessary as a service condition in the government that employees will have to send their children to government schools. It is not a fundamental right of anybody to send their children to a school of their choice. Like Justice Sudhir Agarwal (who passed the August 2015 order) said, if anybody benefiting from the government decides to send their children to private school, they should be penalised and asked to submit an amount equal to what they spend in private schools in the government’s account.
Moreover, they should also suffer in terms of losing increment and promotion.
The Socialist Party (India), with which I’m associated, has taken a stand that only people who have studied in government schools should be eligible for government jobs or for contesting elections at any level in this country. Moreover, their children should also study in government schools. In fact, this idea should be extended to health care sector also. People receiving government salaries should go only to government hospitals for their own treatment as well treatment of family members dependent on them. Privatisation in the field of education and health care should be ceased by the government by taking over all private educational and health care institutions.