Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Capitation fee: how money shows the way and merit takes a back seat

Well, the holidays are almost over and it’s time to get back to school – and college. Students might be eager, what with new uniforms, school bags, tiffin boxes and what have you, the excitement of entering a new class overtaking most of them. However, I met a few teachers for whom the excitement was all but over. The excitement for them was the start of the holidays, but to go back and get into the routine of taking classes, correcting answer papers, supervising students… an unenviable task.

This is also the time for college admissions. These days, even if students score 90% and above, there is no guarantee that they will get seats in the college of their choice, be it arts, commerce or science. I know of a bright young girl who scored 96.4% and thought she’s be able to breeze into one of Chennai’s leading colleges. It took only a few days for her to realize how wrong she was and what an uphill task it is for students like her to get admission. Reason: the quota system and reservations. She belonged to the forward community. Of course, if you have the right strings to pull, you could get a seat, but chances are you won’t have strings to pull. She managed to sneak in though, with recommendation – not from a minister or politician but from a bishop. Small mercies!

The situation is worse in engineering and medical colleges and I am talking about Tamil Nadu. Those who read The Times of India today would have been aghast at the goings-on – a sting operation showed institutions, including one run by a union minister, seeking capitation fee for the MBBS course. The amount - anything from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh, and only in cash. Unbelievable? Not really. Many here already know about such goings-on. It’s only that the newspaper took the courage to expose what was happening. There were pictures of registrars negotiating the capitation fee. According to the reporter who broke the story (it is now being telecast on Times Now), the TN government had claimed that a system was in place to curb collection of capitation fee by private medical colleges. But the expose revealed how a state legislation as well as a Supreme Court order was being violated, the report added. The sting must have caught the minister by surprise – he was seen wringing his hands in despair and disbelief after the news broke out and the television reporter cornered him for comments. Two of the institutions involved – Sri Ramachandra University and Shree Balaji College - are well known.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the days ahead. Will the minister be asked to resign? That’s what people who responded to the story wanted him to do. This is a new cabinet and the Manmohan Singh government has just begun its second innings. The Prime Minister may not want a tainted minister. At the same time, the government may not want to be seen having inducted such a minister and may give him a clean chit. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

What is saddening is that the sting operation is reflective of a wider malaise that is affecting society. Of corruption that has seeped in everywhere. How on earth are we going to get rid of it? Or at least reduce it in some form? Many of us have no answers. I am sure the same thing (seeking bribe in the form of capitation fee) will be repeated the coming year and the next, and the next. It is up to the media to keep the heat on and continue the pursuit of truth and justice.

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