Post Ryan, Why It Is Important to Scrutinise Private School Chains
Ryan International murder calls for scrutiny of school chains or mini-fiefdoms that have mushroomed across India.
Delhi Public School, Ghaziabad, Palam Vihar (DPSG Palam Vihar). Does the name sound quirky? Gurugram, after all, is not Delhi, and not even remotely Ghaziabad. If that isn’t strange enough, then DPSG Palam Vihar is actually the new name of an old school.
Until only a few years ago, the school was called the Chiranjiv Bharati School, and so was its sister branch, DPSG Sushant Lok.
Chiranjiv Bharati Schools were run by the Suraj Kumari Charitable Trust, whose founder Deepak Ansal is the boss of Ansal Housing Group of Companies. The name change (in 2017) was a result of the ‘acquisition’ of the school by the Delhi Public School Ghaziabad Society. Please note, DPSG Society has nothing to do with the better known school chain – Delhi Public School Society. It is just a clever ‘tweaking’ of the name to attract parents who don’t know better.
What’s the pay-off? Parents now complain that with the new ‘DPS’ tag (albeit not the original one) came “a 400 percent hike in fee structure” (as reported in the Times of India, 12 May 2017). Former Principal of Chiranjiv Bharati School Palam Vihar, Narinder Bhatia, is now the Academic Director for the entire DPSG Society.
How the DPSG School Chain Prospered
Om Pathak, former District Magistrate of Ghaziabad, who founded the DPSG Society in 1980, had little trouble securing land at subsidised rates for his educational empire, starting with three schools in Ghaziabad.
DPSG International was started in 2008, its Chairman being Om Pathak’s son, Anshul Pathak, who also happens to be the Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of the DPSG Society.
All other schools in the chain emerged in the last one decade, again, mainly by buying out existing schools, like the one in Sushant Lok and Palam Vihar.
Now with over 13 schools under its banner, the society is unabashedly expanding by inviting schools to become their partners through the ‘takeover of existing schools.’ For ease, interested schools can even apply for a license through the DPSGS website.
The society has been accused of a steep fee hike across most of its schools. Earlier this year, Om Pathak, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, (published by Economics Times on 13 April 2017), complained of the “new phenomenon of parent-teacher standoff and flood of litigation, encouraged by an unimaginative, ignorant, and insensitive bureaucracy, clutching to archaic, colonial and Leftist inspired controls…,” clearly wanting neither parents nor the government to keep an eye on him.
The reckless expansion of school chains all over India has been accompanied with little accountability. Partly because bureaucrats, who were to regulate these private real estate and education fiefdoms, have decided to cash in.
Not surprisingly, retired bureaucrats like Om Pathak are at the helm of education trusts and societies like DSPGS.
Panel Found Irregularities in Account-Keeping of DAV Schools
Interestingly, the practice of giving financial aid to private societies running schools is an old one. In the 19th century, the government began to offer grants-in-aid to DAV schools. Today, the DAV or the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School chain is the largest private school chain in the country, controlling nearly 600 education institutions, all managed by the DAV College Managing Committee.
But there are reports of irregularities here as well. The tenth interim report of Justice Anil Dev Singh Committee for Review of School Fee (25 April 2016), constituted to probe the irregularities in accounts of private schools in Delhi, found serious violations in account keeping in DAV schools.
Fee Hike at DAV Schools Questioned by 2016 Panel
The committee found that the revenues of all DAV schools were first being transferred to the account of the Society, ie DAVCMC. After that, only the amount required to meet the expenses of the school were transferred back to the school. Surplus funds being retained by the Society.
This is nothing but the transfer of funds by the schools to the Society, which is proscribed by law.Justice Anil Dev Singh Committee
The committee did not have the jurisdiction to investigate the accounts of DAVCMC. But it did question fee hikes imposed by some DAV schools, given that the schools clearly had surplus funds, which were being transferred to the DAV Society.
This charge amounted to charging of capitation fee, which again is prohibited by law, and also goes against the directions issued by the Directorate of Education. None of the schools were following the preconditions for charging development fee as laid down by the Duggal Committee.
According to Anil Dev Singh Committee report, the DAV schools collected Rs 10.55 crore and Rs 10.62 crore in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively from students as development fund. The Committee also recommended special inspection of the accounts of DAVCMC, along with the accounts of respective schools to ascertain facts regarding payment of salaries according to the Sixth Pay Commission.
In another interim report of the committee, DAV Public School Sreshtha Vihar, one of the flagship school of DAVCMC, was ordered to refund Rs. 70,86,686, collected in the name of development fee between 2009-11.
Are Private Schools Above Scrutiny?
Last year, the Delhi government asked CAG empanelled chartered accountants to examine the accounts of 100+ private schools, who applied for a permit to raise fees.
A senior advisor to the Delhi Education Minister said, “Only five (out of a 100+) schools that applied, actually needed to hike their fees to meet expenses; the other schools had enough reserve funds and were still choosing to hike their fees.”
Most private schools remain in defiance of CBSE’s 2016 order (as reported in The Hindu, 31 October 2016) to disclose fees, teacher’s salaries, infrastructure expenditure on school websites.
Schools were also asked to put the details of their respective sexual harassment committees online, as well as details of members to be contacted in case of an emergency. Several well known elite school chains haven’t done this.
When schools breed like rabbits, trying to maximise ‘market-share’, quality and safety turn into secondary concerns. When schools can be sold and bought, with the nameplates rewritten for their new owners, there’s little credibility schools can claim for themselves. It is time for these massive school chains to take a breath, introspect, and find a way to regain the trust of students and their parents.
(Akshat Tyagi is the author of ‘Naked Emperor of Education’. He tweets at @AshAkshat. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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