Sacking of CBSE chairperson won’t solve the problem: School Education secretary Anil Swarup

Looking back at the CBSE paper leak controversy, school education secretary Anil Swarup tells Sumi Sukanya Dutta that rather than boot out the chairperson, she should be given a chance to fix loophole

Published: 15th April 2018 08:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th April 2018 10:41 AM   |  A+A-

 Union Coal Secretary Anil Swarup

Anil Swarup, the school education and literacy secretary who was the face of the government during the recent CBSE paper leak controversy, feels that demands to sack the board chairperson are not justified. 
“You cannot just sack somebody because something went wrong somewhere,” he says. Such a sacking would certainly make news, he says, but would not solve the problem. If not found guilty of wrongdoing, the person at the helm should be given a chance to fix loopholes than be asked to walk away, the 1981-batch Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer, who retires in June, tells The Sunday Standard in an exclusive interview.  

Anil Swarup, the school education and literacy secretary who was the face of the government during the recent Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) paper leak controversy, feels that demands to sack the board chairperson are not justified. Such a sacking would certainly make news, he says, but would not solve the problem. If not found guilty of wrongdoing, the person at the helm should be given a chance to fix loopholes in the system than be asked to walk away, the 1981-batch Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer, who retires in June, tells The Sunday Standard in an exclusive interview. 

Illustration: Amit Bandre

The government has started an internal inquiry following the CBSE Class X and XII paper leak controversy. What is its status?
The internal inquiry is more to look at the system rather than fixing responsibility. Fixing responsibility is done through police investigation to check whether there is any collusion. So far there is no indication of any collusion of any CBSE official. There was only a finding that a particular official was lax in supervision, though there was no evidence of collusion yet, he was suspended and a formal departmental probe was started.

There is a process of a formal inquiry in the code of conduct rules. So you appoint an inquiry officer and then an inquiry happens and action is taken against the concerned officer. This should not take very long — maybe in a month they will come to a conclusion on the extent of fault of that official.

Will we see more heads rolling in this case?
You cannot start by saying that heads should roll for the sake of it. We live in a country where law prevails. Under the law, you take action only if there is responsibility. Under the code of conduct rule, you can’t take action on the basis of moral responsibility. There has to be a specific responsibility — what has that person done wrong? Moral responsibility is not a consideration for civil services. Civil servants are either right or wrong — there cannot be a grey area in-between.

So far, the police probe has not shown that there was collusion on the part of even a lowly CBSE officer. If that were the case, action will be taken against any officer but you cannot say initiate action just because of moral responsibility. If a wrong has happened, we have to find out what is the extent of involvement of an individual in that wrong.

Everybody has been talking about the role of the CBSE chairperson (Anita Karwal) but what is her fault? She received a mail at 1 am (a tip-off on the Class X Maths paper leak) but saw it only around 8.55 in the morning and immediately informed the Controller of Examinations.There were hordes of fake leaks floating around – you cannot stop or do something about a purported leak without verifying it. Every leak was verified — but only two were found to be true (the other being the Class XII Economics paper leak). But after the examination had begun (on March 28), she could not stop it midway as it would have created chaos. At every step, a calculated decision was taken as per the available information keeping the best of students’ interests in mind.

So what did she (Karwal) do wrong on her part? I am of the view that if a civil servant is wrong, he or she should be sacked but if they are not, they should be asked to stay and correct the system. Theoretically, if she were to be removed, a new chap will come and take several months just to understand things. Now if she is not directly involved as the evidence so far suggests, she is in the best position to understand and improve the system.

Are we interested in improving the system or are we baying for somebody’s blood? It may not make news, but if I want to improve the system, the person who is sitting there is in a better position to come up with solutions than a new chap.

Many feel that after the CBSE leak controversy, the chairperson is being defended...
You see, if somebody has done something wrong, there is accountability; otherwise, just because people demand that somebody be hung, so the highest person is hung — will that be justified?
She (Karwal) is at it and trying to bring in changes. And her credentials prove that. She has been one of the most outstanding officials. What she has done in the HRD ministry (as a joint secretary) even before she became CBSE chairperson is quite remarkable. She was responsible for successfully carrying out the National Assessment Survey, 2017, to assess the learning outcomes of school children across the country — which was the biggest such survey where 22 lakh children were tested to see what they are learning in government schools.

This was the biggest-ever exercise to correct the education system in the country because we are making district-wise plans on what is wrong where and how to fix it. She was the pivot around whom the NAS was carried out even though it was done by the NCERT. That was phenomenal work.
One has to look at antecedents of an individual before taking any action. You cannot just sack somebody because something went wrong somewhere.

Over the years, CBSE had made a name for itself in conducting exams. Have the recent leaks led to a credibility crisis?
CBSE is a very credible organisation and will continue to be so. This was an exception and could have happened anywhere. Things like these definitely impact credibility to some extent but it cannot erode credibility completely.

Reputations are not made or unmade in a day. If there is a genuine effort to plug some loopholes, what is the problem? Yes, it’s a wake-up call; yes, something very wrong has happened. It has been admitted and, therefore, a committee has been set up under the chairmanship of ex-HRD secretary V S Oberoi on use of technology in conducting CBSE exams and it will submit its report by May 31.
In the meanwhile, all efforts are being made to understand how the system could improve and I have no doubt that next year we will have an even better system in place.

Of late, you have been talking about an education mafia in the country. What exactly do you mean?
There are a lot many factors that impact education — for me, the focal point is teachers and that is impacted when I say mafia. By and large, most people are fine but there are a set of people who are trying to destroy the system and trouble the future of this country.

I will give you a couple of examples. There are 16,000 B.Ed colleges in the country but it is a known fact that many of them do not function at all. When we asked them to furnish affidavits, about 4,000 did not and when we initiated action against them, they went to court. But we took them on — the first time that such notices were issued on such a large scale.

The other set of mafia relates to some set of private schools. There are some schools which escalate fee without any rationale and we keep getting complaints against them. We have been in touch with state governments, and I am glad to say that the Uttar Pradesh government has come up with a legislation (on regulation of private schools) two days back, which have been welcomed even by private schools’ association, meaning thereby that a majority of them are not opposed to some sort of a regulation.

This I would say is another step to bring mafias under control.I hope other states will also follow. Gujarat has already done something similar and Andhra Pradesh is actively considering it. So, there are initiatives being taken to rein in education mafias who are in small numbers but are well-connected and powerful.

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