Every admission season, schools in Mumbai, especially convent schools, receive letters from ministers, politicians and bureaucrats pushing for admissions of their staff’s wards, or of their relatives, friends or acquaintances.
A reply by Maharashtra School Education Department to an RTI application filed recently by Nana Kute Patil of educational NGO Buland Chhawa reveals that 591 such letters were sent by them to several schools of Mumbai in the last three years. A bulk of these letters — 337 — were sent to convent schools recommending admission to particular candidates (239 letters) or pushing for the selection of those who have already been denied admission in the first place ( 98 letters).
School authorities say the letters were just a polite way of arm twisting. “Hardly any education official comes and inspects our schools. But if we refuse admission to a candidate recommended by them, officials come to the school for inspection and threaten us of dire consequences... They also gather in large numbers outside the school and harass us and threaten us,” says Father George Athaide, secretary of Archdiocesan Board of Education that runs 150 convent schools in the city.
Sometimes the situation becomes so worse that police help is needed, says Father Baptist Pinto, the principal of St. Mary's Boys' School at Mazgaon. “Local politicians also drop in with their recommendations. Every school has a first-come, first-admission policy. Now, we also have to follow the Right to Education Act. On top of this, we receive threat calls if we do not act upon the recommendations,” he says and then goes on to add that the admission season has become a “nightmare” for them.
School management claim that the recommendation letters sent by politicians and ministers often mask the “authority” they try to assert often. During 2013 academic year, 49 of the total 82 letters were sent by ministers. The remaining from local politicians, MLAs and MPs, bureaucrats and others. Of the 49 letters from the ministers' offices, a majority (25) were from school education minister and minister of state for education's office.
“For politicians, it is just for votebank. For others it's gratification, may be in the form of money,” says Athaide.
Father Bosco D'Mello, the principal of Don Bosco School in Matunga, echoes Athaide. “We never deny admissions to needy people. However, by recommending people for admissions, the politicians are just eyeing the votebank,” he adds.