Mamata Banerjee has held a meeting with the heads of Kolkata’s top schools.

Kolkata:  Chief minister Mamata Banerjee turned school principal today and roundly rebuked her ‘students’ who happened to be heads of the top private schools of Kolkata -La Martiniere, St Xavier’s, St James to name a few. And she laid down the law: Kolkata’s private schools cannot charge whatever they like as fees. And no donations either.

A self-regulatory panel is being set up with top cops in it.
“Five lakh rupees!?” she exclaimed at one point of the meeting, where the heads of 50-odd schools had gathered. “How is that even possible?”

And one school principal after another got a taste of their own medicine: Taking tough questions from an unsparing ‘teacher’.

 “La Marts,” Ms Banerjee said, “One of the city’s best schools but also the highest fees. Rs 2.47 lakh. And donations, big donations are taken. There is a police complaint. I know about it, I have papers,” she added.

Bishop Ashok Biswas, who heads several schools including La Martiniere, denied the charge. “It happens outside school, we don’t know about it. I believe nothing is taken,” he said.

Believe or know? “I know we don’t take,” he said.

As the class, as it were, was over, the principals emerged from what they unofficially called “Mamata ki pathshala.”  

Father Rodney, the principal of Loyola High School said, “The moment the Chief Minister came into the room, we said, ‘Oh, the headmistress has arrived’. And she made very valid points.”

“Yes,” agreed Mukta Nain, the principal of Birla High School for Boys. “The Chief Minister had done her homework.”

But can a self-regulatory panel regulate fees of private schools, even if it includes bureaucrats and the police?  

“No,” said TH Ireland, the principal of St James School. “How can anybody fix private school fees?”  Mr Supriya Dhar, secretary La Martiniere, added, “It’s Catch 22. Quality of service differs from school to school.”

Ms Banerjee also took exception to an exception — unhappy that speeches of political leaders were being screened in the classrooms of Shri Shikshyatan Girls School.  “How can you show political speeches to young school students? There is no knowledge in them.
Only politics. Very bad. I would be unhappy even if my speeches where played in your school,” she said.

The Opposition was unimpressed. But parents are delighted. But for now, they are being discreet. The Chief Minister, many said, has addressed a key issue.

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