Five per cent marks for community service, grades in place of ranks for Intermediate students, mandatory physical exercises, and Sunday weekly off besides constitution of a committee comprising representatives from corporate colleges and government officials to suggest measures aimed at preventing student suicides; last but not the least, each police station in the state to adopt a private college — these, in short, are the decisions taken by the Andhra Pradesh government last week following student suicides almost every other day in the last one month. What could the short-staffed police do and what the main accused, corporate colleges, will suggest is anybody’s guess.
Hitherto, Kota in Rajasthan used to come to mind when one talked of student suicides but now, the dubious distinction goes to Andhra, courtesy corporate colleges. Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu did hold a meeting with their representatives and warned them of stringent action if they continued to treat students like robots contrary to his mission of developing the state into a knowledge-based society. He told them he wanted to see the ‘change’ in four-five days. But, actions speak louder than words.
The government claims that seven students have committed suicide this year, and that 35 have ended their life in the last five years — when it is obvious that almost as many have taken the extreme step in the last few months alone. According to one estimate, 50 students have committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the last couple of months, most of them unable to bear the harassment at colleges and hostels.
In fact, taking note of the alarming spike in student suicides, the education department had constituted a two-member committee, headed by retired IAS officer D Chakrapani, in late 2015 itself. The panel had toured 10 districts and submitted a report in May this year. Among its recommendations were appointment of a counsellor for each college, no classes or study hours before 8 am and after 6 pm instead of the present 18-hour-a-day drudgery, introduction of physical exercises and yoga, no display of marks on notice boards, and constitution of an ethics panel as well as a monitoring committee among others. Besides this, there was the Union HRD Ministry’s missive to the states advising them to regulate private coaching institutions. It also suggested that the Justice Roopanwal Commission of Enquiry’s recommendations be kept in mind while formulating an effective education policy to prevent student suicides.
The state government has, for some inexplicable reason, turned a blind eye to most of these recommendations. Its knee-jerk reaction to the recent spate of suicides has lent credibility to the Opposition’s allegations of a conflict of interest. The most powerful corporate colleges in the state are run by the family of municipal administration minister Narayana, and HRD minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao happens to be his close relative.
Rao himself has admitted that most of the suicides have been reported from colleges owned by his colleague’s family. There are around 3,500 colleges in the state out of which just a little over 500 are run by the government. And, by Rao’s own admission, at least 150 hostels run by private institutions have no permits. Recently, two hostels run by the minister’s family were found to have no permit. Narayana has been understandably tightlipped and is currently in the UAE along with the CM. From there, he will fly to London to finalise designs for the construction of the new Assembly and other buildings in Amaravati.
Rao, meanwhile, will be embarking on a US odyssey on October 23 to visit American universities to learn about their teaching methodologies and implement the same here. The approach smacks of confusion at best and collusion at worst. Student suicides are no longer isolated incidents and have become an epidemic. As such, a holistic approach is required by cracking the whip on corporate colleges and creating awareness among parents that children’s lives are far more precious than their own dreams. To start with, the government would do well to implement the Chakrapani Committee recommendations in toto.
It’s a sad commentary that Opposition YSRC chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is embarking on a statewide padayatra from November 2 to cover 3,000 km in six months to gain momentum ahead of the next polls, has been mum on the issue. And so is actor-cum-politician Pawan Kalyan. Maybe, the students themselves will have to rise up in revolt. A tall order, sandwiched as they are between their parents and colleges. A student’s touching letter to her parents recently apologising to them for going missing and accusing the college of killing the students could just be the trigger for more to come forward.
Kalyan Chakravarthi Tholeti
Deputy Resident Editor, Andhra Pradesh