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SRINAGAR: Over the last few weeks there has been a sustained effort to undermine the private education sector in Kashmir, which has created a dangerous situation for the entire society. Private Schools Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJK) has condemned the certain lobby in administration and few other quarters who in one way or other are trying to destroy the fledgling private education sector in Kashmir. “Today running a private school has become a herculean task. With mudslinging, barrage of allegations and character assassinations, private schools are being labelled as some kind of criminals,” said G N Var chairman PSAJK.

Never in the history have private schools been put under such pressure as are now. Revenue authorities, Legal Metrology Department, Directorate of School Education, Fee Fixation Committee, district administration and everybody who wields some sort of power are swooping down on small private schools to harass them. In the name of selling books, schools are being targeted unnecessarily.

“To give you an example of harassment let me quote an example. On 12th November a team of Legal Metrology Department paid a visit to Leeds Convent School Kulgam. The team after thoroughly searching for an hour could not find any book in the school and then in utter frustration they challaned the school after spotting two Gas cylinders which the school had used for heating a clas 11th examination centre,” said Var. “In another incident the team unable to find any books took away books from school library and fined the school Rs 50000. The issue went to DC level as the school fought the unjustified action. The administration is trying to find excuses to harass them.”

Incidentally, there is no rule which specifically says that schools cannot keep books in their schools for sale. Infact in February this year, High Court in New Delhi had allowed the sale of books, uniforms in schools at the tuck shops set up at affiliated schools across the country, holding that the sale of such items does not amount to “commercialisation” of education.  Nearer home in Jammu, in the case of DM Kathua imposing ban on admission fee, sale of stationery items in private schools, High Court stayed the order.

If the government was sincere about selling of books in private schools, why didn’t they take up the issue when the big schools like Missionary Schools sold every book, notebook and stationery items from their schools. Where were they when these schools forced parents to buy everything from their schools. This has been their practice for more than 20 years, yet they were never raided. “It was only when the admission time in local private schools came, the government suddenly wakes up,” said Var. “Two respected private schools like Green Valley and R P School were given harsh punishment even as no hand was laid on missionary schools despite later being way too costly.”

“Regarding the concern that there are complaints of books being sold only at one place, the PSAJK has already issued the circular directing schools to make available books at multiple places,” said Var. It is a sad reality that KAS and IAS officers have a myopic vision and look at education from an administrative point only. Government Education department being a competitor to the Private Schools cannot be a fair regulator and the administrative system needs a change.

“Our only question to people at the helm of power is that if they loathe private schools so much and if they feel they are not doing their jobs satisfactorily then why every official puts their children in private schools, Why don’t our bureaucrats and even government school teachers admit their wards in government schools,” said Var. “On one hand they want to benefit from private schools by admitting their wards but on the other hand they don’t want to give these schools their due credit and instead continue to harass them.”

The Private Schools in Kashmir has been one of the success stories and need to be celebrated. With an average expenditure of Rs 450 per child, the schools bring out gems out of them. In comparison with government, schools spend an average of Rs 11500 per child and in return destroy society by turning children into failures. “In an ideal situation, the government should have emulated the Private School model and revolutionised the education sector. They could have provided the best education to the lowest of strata using our model but what they are doing is to destroy the only successful model of education in Kashmir. This shows their intent,” said Var.

On one hand, local private schools are being harassed and some even forced to shut down, there are attempts to bring in Jawahar Navodya Vidyalas and Kendriya Vidyalas in every district and block. The officials are meeting day in and out identifying land for them and providing them facilities to set up schools. They are being encouraged while as locals being discouraged. It seems to be an attempt to hijack the entire educations sector and put it in the hands of outsiders.

‘Over the years Kashmiri students have been conquering one field after another in academics, sports and other fields all thanks to the best education provided by the private schools and some quarters are not happy with the progress. There are continuous attempts to malign the private schools and take away the control of schools from locals,” said Var. “Since 2014 around 150 schools have downed their shutters as they couldn’t bear the humiliation and red Tapism.  They preferred closing their schools and many more are distressed in a similar way.”

The Association has termed the current situation as extremely hostile for running of private schools and is keenly watching the developments. The Association is planning a major conference of schools on November 20. If the situation doesn’t improve, the Association will announce the future course of action, even if it may be some drastic one, during that conference.