It is common knowledge that Mumbai suffers from a serious infrastructure deficit. Actually, most Indian metros suffer from the same malady – haphazard planning, serious shortage of civic amenities, transport squeeze, and so on. But, Mumbai’s politicians probably take the cake – they have discovered ways of adding to the deficit rather than remedying the situation. Scraping the bottom of the vote barrel, they have dredged up a desperate scheme – reserving 90% of junior college (or institutions that offer Plus-2 courses) seats for students from schools affiliated to the local SSC board. This leaves almost nothing for students from the other central boards, such as ICSE or CBSE.
Why is this an infrastructure issue? Actually, unbeknownst to many, Mumbai has only a few good schools. Most of the other metros can proudly boast of a large number of good schools. And, among the few good schools that the “Maximum City” city has, most are affiliated to the central boards. It has also probably escaped everybody’s notice how the city has ceased to be attractive for new business investments. The reason? Among the many irritants that confront newcomers to the city (such as, traffic), lack of a wide choice of good schools figures pretty high on the list. In fact, one expat Citibank CEO opted to relocate to Delhi because his kids had a wider choice of so-called good schools in that city.
The hare-brained 90% reservation scheme has been challenged in court, as it should be. This column suspects that Maharashtra’s Ashok Chavan government may not even be serious about implementing it – make the announcement, allow the bile to rise, encourage protests, fight the court cases, sit back and see the brownie points roll in. First, the education minister announced this scheme and caught everybody by surprise. This was roundly pooh-poohed by his senior party colleagues. Then, suddenly — one could almost see the bulb light up as realisation of the political dividends dawned — even the chief minister parachuted into the controversy by expressing his approval.
But, this is a cheap stunt. And, parents of children in SSC-administered schools should be careful before endorsing the scheme. They should see the idea for what it actually is – a cheap vote-catching gimmick. If this government is really serious about SSC students, it should first improve the syllabus. It has now been established beyond any doubt that SSC standards have fallen way behind the central boards, or even some of the other state-run education boards. Most of the SSC schools are in a state of disrepair, and many of them are owned by the state government. The quality of teachers is dropping in all schools, but at a faster rate in the SSC schools. The SSC board needs a long-term fix, not band-aid and plasters.